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Green Domestic Service Promotes Sustainable Development
China Today
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Green Domestic Service Promotes Sustainable Development

A creative concept proposed by Beijing Hongyan Social Service Center combines domestic service with environmental protection, bringing green development to numerous families.

Environmental protection has been deeply rooted in people’s minds and become a code of conduct for the general public. It is displayed in various small actions in people’s daily lives, such as garbage sorting, recycling of old materials, and green traveling.

Beijing Hongyan Social Service Center, a welfare organization dedicated to serving female domestic workers, has put forward a concept of green domestic service, in an effort to combine domestic work with environmental protection. It promotes domestic workers’ awareness and skills by providing them consultation and training, so as to bring green development into thousands of households.

A promotional video about Hongyan’s work and the cleaning products are displayed at COP27 in November 2022. 

Green Concept 

Established in 2016, Hongyan is located in northeastern Beijing’s Wangjing area. Now, it has pooled together more than 1,000 domestic workers in the city. When it was first launched, the main goal of its founder Mei Ruo and her team was to help domestic workers boost their self-confidence. It has sponsored activities such as cooking, courses in writing, scraping therapy (a medical treatment of traditional Chinese medicine), legal advice, and sightseeing on weekends, and also organized an artistic group to participate in various art performances.

In 2018, Hongyan began to explore what they could do to help promote the career development of domestic workers. Based on previous research, Hongyan found that the disinfectants commonly used by them are mostly industrial-grade products, containing ingredients which can be harmful to skin, eyes, respiratory tract, and other body parts during long-term use. Besides, due to lifestyle differences between rural and urban residents, the use and consumption of materials also vary. This requires domestic workers to be savvy on how to classify garbage under different regulations in each area.

In order to cultivate the awareness of environmental protection, improve service skills, and raise self-confidence of domestic workers, Hongyan decided to write a series of handbooks, so as to bring the concept of sustainable development to more homes through daily services.

With the support of China Minsheng Bank and China Foundation for Rural Development (formally called China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation), Hongyan conducted research in 2019 on the actual work scenarios and core needs of domestic workers, invited experts from relevant fields to write practical instructions, and cooperated with homeworkers to refine the content of the manuals.

In July 2021, it released a series of handbooks entitled 3+X dealing with the three topics of garbage sorting, healthy diet, and home cleaning. The “X” refers to services for diverse families and people with disabilities. Due to the useful content and easy reading style of the handbooks, they received unanimous praise from domestic workers.

In addition to the handbooks, Hongyan has also developed online and offline courses to better equip green domestic workers. So far, nearly 100 female workers have received certificates from Hongyan.

Du Xiao was one of the first workers who obtained a certificate in June 2021. She came to Beijing from northwest China’s Shaanxi Province in 2018 to work in the sector of providing baby care services. Having been impressed by a video she saw on strict garbage sorting in Japan, Du quickly signed up for the training course organized by Hongyan when she saw the advertisement. After she finished the course, she started to practice the skills she acquired in her service. She took the initiative to introduce the practice of garbage sorting to her employer’s family, placed garbage cans in the house for sorting, and also re-sorted the garbage that her employer had missorted.

In addition, she also talked to her employers about reusing materials. She advised them to take their unused bags and other stuff to be reused or exchanged for other things at the second-hand market. Once when the male employer was about to throw away take-out packaging, the female employer stopped him and asked Du to dispose it. Du’s green ideology and service slowly influenced her employers, gaining their support and cooperation in the process.

“Households as a private space are very difficult to reach and impact. As domestic workers become aware of environmental protection and implement the principles in their work, they will make an impact on families and the community. The positive feedback they get from their employers will also boost their confidence in their contribution, which forms a win-win and multi-win pattern,” Li Wenfen, project director of Hongyan, told China Today.

Song Tinghui (left), member of the cooperative, presents cleaning products to visitors. 

Green Brand 

In August 2017, seven female domestic workers formed a cooperative with the help of Hongyan. It focuses on producing eco-friendly cleaning products. Now, the group has grown to 13 participants.

They learn and make products on their days off during the week. By recycling disposable cooking oils from vegan restaurants, they make handmade soaps without any added preservatives, harmful chemicals, or artificial fragrances for charitable organizations. They also teach the process in several communities and enterprises.

In June 2020, the group members filmed a series of short videos to share their skills on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, including the production process of the soap and daily cleaning methods.

In order to introduce eco-friendly products to more consumers, they opened an online store in the second half of 2020, in which they sell handmade products including soaps, skin care products, herbal creams, and cotton aprons.

Wang Jinzhi, a member of the group, also took the skills and products back to her hometown. From August to October 2020, she made the cleaning soap as gifts of appreciation for her neighbors who took care of her aged parents when she worked in Beijing. She bought molds and raw materials online, collected leftover oil from neighbors’ homes, then made the cleaning soaps and distributed them to her neighbors. She also taught the process to neighbors and introduced them to the principles of environmental protection. The praise and support Wang received in response from her neighbors also deepened her motivation to keep on providing green services.

“We hope that the knowledge and skills which domestic workers have learned can be truly put into practice. The positive feedback they receive will reflect and enhance their professional value. This career innovation allows domestic workers to realize their potential beyond just being a service provider and caregiver, and enables them to also become a leader of a green and healthy lifestyle,” Li told China Today.

Shi Huawen, member of the cooperative, shows a batch of handmade soaps. Photos courtesy of Beijing Hongyan Social Service Center 

Green Vision 

According to the Ministry of Commerce, the number of people working in China’s domestic service industry grew from 23.3 million in 2015 to 37.6 million in 2021. Data show that 90 percent of them come from rural areas. In November 2021, 15 central government departments jointly issued an implementation plan for improving quality and expanding the capacity of the industry. The domestic service industry in China is developing in the direction of personalization and specialization, providing more job positions for more people.

After several years of exploration, Hongyan’s project has received much attention and approval from people of all walks of life. In November 2022, a promotional video about Hongyan’s work and eco-friendly cleaning products were exhibited at COP27, demonstrating the power of Chinese women’s participation in environmental governance. During the same year, its green domestic service project was listed on the official website of the National Development and Reform Commission as a typical case of quality and capacity expansion of the industry, reflecting efforts to implement the two national strategies of ecological civilization and rural revitalization at the grassroots level.

In 2021, Hongyan extended its concept to the building of an ecosystem of green domestic service, focusing on the harmonious co-existence and sustainable development of humans and nature, humans and society, and humans with themselves.

With the support of Vanke Foundation, Hongyan launched the curriculum of green skills and upgraded the content of the 3+X handbooks. The new handbook on garbage sorting was released in September 2022. Another one for a healthy diet is expected to be released in August 2023. In April 2023, the project received the 11th Lam Woo Distinguished Social Work Award, which is one of the most professional and influential awards in the field of social work in China.

At present, Hongyan is developing soft skills training courses for physical and mental development, and interpersonal communication, gradually forming a more complete curriculum system to help domestic workers. “Through the complete curriculum, we hope to support domestic workers by empowering them and providing them with more practice, so as to promote the sustainable development between people themselves, society, and nature in a more extensive way,” Li told China Today.

At the same time, Hongyan is also promoting related projects in communities in cooperation with domestic service companies, residential committees, and industry associations. It hopes to bring the green concept to more domestic workers and millions of families they serve.

China TodayShen Yi

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