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  • Writer's pictureAlizée CCM

A Local Hero - Leo Ling | Green Solutions China | KAILU Ep 8 | Sustainability Documentary China

Leo, The Visionaire

Leo is quite the celebrity in southwest China when we talk about sustainability. From the mountains of Dali to the city of Chengdu, if you mention sustainability, you will be referred to him as someone very active in this field. 

Originally from Anhui, he lived in multiple large cities in Asia. Before moving to Yunnan, he was in Chiangmai Thailand. He read a story about a cool wet market in the province and made his way here. 

Leo is a natural leader and an environmentalist at heart. He already lived out the sustainable values before realizing more people shared similar values and ways of living. Wanting to know more, he dived into the community and ancient practices,  one thing led to another, and he decided to turn this into his work. 

While we were sharing a delicious vegan meal in one of his favorite local restaurants, he proceeded to explain the ecosystem of the multiple changemakers in this part of China. He shared how many establishments are adopting greener practices; local schools show more interest in his services, and, more importantly, the huge community he leads here. 

He created two projects here; the first one is called Green Solutions China, a social enterprise that focuses on raising awareness through programs for schools and companies, providing them with team-building activities with other local organizations in Yunnan. The second project with a cause that is also close to his heart is the zero plastic vegan tours he runs in Dali. 

I am very happy to introduce you to Leo. My time with him in Yunnan was a lot of fun and very inspiring. Leo is intrigued by ancient knowledge and techniques of doing things.

China harbors a lot of deep ancient knowledge across multiple disciplines, and he is on a mission to keep those alive so they can be immersed in our modern lives.

Read the full interview here below!

Thanks for journeying with us :-)

Watch the episode on YouTube here!

KAILU, The Open Road.

A cross-country journey to meet the Chinese Changemakers in sustainability.

Roadtripping in China


Watch it here: The KAILU Docu Series


Leo Ling - Green Solutions China - KAILU Documentary

Read an excerpt from the book here:


How would you introduce yourself? 

My name is Leo, and I moved here to Yunnan just under two years ago. Right after I settled here, I started my own sustainability business. It's been going pretty well. 

What made you want to start a company with a focus on environmental solutions?

I was inspired by a lot of people when I was in Shanghai while working at Egg (a local eatery), and one of the people who inspired me is you, together with other people in vegan groups. There are too many to count, but many people, who also work in the industry, have shown me it is possible to work in this field.

The biggest reason why I chose this path is probably that: it’s simply in me. I always loved nature. I always hated the stuff. Right now, I am vegan, but even before making this new lifestyle choice, I didn’t crave meat. Never needed it. 

My whole life has been pretty sustainable-ish, and I believe it's my calling to do something. 

This path is an extension of who you are as a person and the values you hold. Why did you choose Yunnan? 

Well, you know, I didn't intend to move here initially. Before Yunnan, I was living in Chiangmai, but I had to leave Thailand because I couldn’t find a job there. I came across an article about a cool wet market in Kunming, so I decided to come here and see it for myself, and I fell in love with the place. 

Sustainability is a very broad topic. We can talk about veganism. We can talk about zero waste. What is your focus on sustainability?

I run two projects here. The first one is a social enterprise called Green Solutions China, and besides this, I run zero-plastic vegan tours. The latter is easily understandable. We tour people around the city of Dali to taste different types of local vegan food. 

Our focus is on the zero-waste lifestyle and we organize events for green solutions, where we remind people to never use disposable plastics and all our awareness events revolve around zero waste and a plant-based diet. 

I have been vegan for almost two years now, I was vegetarian a year before that. Then the interest grew larger to organic farming. Organic food is huge here. I believe it is probably the largest place in China where we grow food organically. The surrounding mountains provide a good climate; it simply feels right to grow food organically. This is our main focus.

This being said we also refer to the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We organize some events based on these goals in Kunming, such as events for underprivileged people, people with special needs like autism, and orphans. We’ve also raised awareness for animal welfare. For example, we took the community to a local street animal shelter in Kunming to volunteer. Another fun activity was a mountain cleanup with the shelter dogs, which we now do every year. You take a shelter dog and a trash bag, and together you clean up the nearby mountains. It’s fun. The last time we were 60 people, and maybe 20 dogs. 

Leo Ling - Green Solutions China - KAILU Documentary

Why do you choose the SDGs? Is there a specific reason why you incorporate these in your events?

I can personally relate to the 17 goals. It's been part of my life and they refer to subjects that I care about. I care about people and one of the biggest reasons I started doing sustainability is that I just wanted to help other people. I didn't even have to think about it. It's just in me. That's the reason. 

I do have a main focus like you, maybe two or three goals. We focus on that. 

How would you describe to someone what sustainability is?

The way I see it, it’s simply part of everyone's life. Sustainability is not something fancy. It's not something expensive. Food and water are a necessity, and similarly, sustainability is also a part of that. The way I do this is to live in harmony with other people of nature, including animals. Sustainability is about habits and lifestyle choices.

And how do you make this concept more accessible to other people? I am wondering, what do you do with green solutions to bring that awareness to people? 

I have a great community supporting me right now, and I'm very grateful for that. The way I'm approaching the concept is by creating a framework. I have a lot of people in my groups, the online community, and I can tell they're not aware of the sustainability concept. Recently we wrote guidelines, in which we included 17 goals to give a little more context to people for them to understand more. 

        Recently, I learned the saying: all talk no ****.  (a phrase that translates to saying that a lot of people are all about the talk, but don’t act on it). I prefer to do stuff. For me, the most comfortable way is to raise awareness through fun, such as community events. 

I never lecture people in a guilt-provoking way to eat vegan or not to use plastic, I’d rather organize an event to educate them, and then they make their own decision afterward. I don't want to make decisions for other people. 

"I believe that when we are really serious about something, the universe conspires to help us."

I share that same approach. What are some challenges?

I think that's my favorite question because this allows me to express my need for help in the future, hopefully. My biggest challenge today is the financial side of what I do. I'm pretty broke, like most people who work in sustainability, I believe. When I started this, my goal was pretty clear to become profitable from this activity, like my colleagues in Shanghai.

I started these two projects at the same time. The first year I just wanted to organize free events, to raise awareness and get more followers. Simultaneously, I organized the vegan tours in Dali to financially support the social enterprise, but it didn't work because the pandemic hit and local tourism went down. I have some customers from Shanghai, but it's definitely not enough. We still have a long way to go financially. 

I think the other challenge is the mindset here. I do like the people, they're very laid back and very friendly, especially if you go to villages over the mountains, they're friendly. The elders invite you to have a cup of tea, a meal, or even stay at their house. It's very common here. But they’re not exposed to new ways of thinking or doing and it sometimes comes across as close-minded. It's hard for me to organize events or do business because they won't pay for this type of content or event. 

Let's say you had the money. How would you grow your business?

I think the first thing I want to do, definitely is to hire an amazing team. Today I have many volunteers who support me and I am grateful for them. But if I want to grow, I need a fixed team to help me. 

Besides that, I certainly want to invest in some other projects such as starting my organic farm with a vegan restaurant next to it. It would be a farm-to-table vegan restaurant with a zero-waste shop. 

I guess that is the dream then.

If I live here for a long time, yeah definitely, that's something I would want.

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.

How do you feel about China and sustainability? Have you felt a shift in recent years?

Yes, definitely. I think that the biggest shift happening are in the big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and even Chengdu right now is huge. It's growing and it's going fast. 

In Southwest China, places such as Yunnan, more people are gaining awareness around those topics right now, but it's still moving slowly. This being said, that's also one of the reasons I wanted to live here. Shanghai doesn't need me. 

I am not following politics, but I am reading about the government side of the implementation of new regulations. The most recent ones are about food waste, restaurants can fine customers if they waste food. I do hope in the future, there will be more policies that encourage living more sustainably.

Are there particular people who have helped you realize this project or who have inspired you? 

I think, first of all, you and other people in Shanghai, have been my inspiration. That's how I started thinking about this concept in China. I mean, I didn't meet a lot of people, but I did visit a lot of businesses. I’m inspired not just by one person, but by many people.     

        The change-makers in the world, I never met them in person, but I read their books or watched the movies they made. I mean, I learn from everyone. I look up to everyone. Even here in Yunnan, I meet a lot of amazing people, the small farmers, they're fantastic. Vegan restaurant owners, they're very inspiring as well. 

Leo Ling - Green Solutions China - KAILU Documentary

I want to talk about veganism with you, could you share your thoughts on this with me?

I already mentioned that I was a vegetarian for about a year. Then came vegan January, and there was a one-month challenge to go vegan that I participated in, and after 30 days I just kept going. My body felt amazing, I slept much better and had more energy in general. 

I discovered that vegan restaurant owners are very aware not only to remove meat from their dishes, but they also to pay attention to the quality of the produce. They will try to serve organic vegetables and fruits, and even if they can’t guarantee that it is 100% organic, they will serve very fresh produce and stay away from processed foods. 

       Many of them would make their own sauces and other condiments would be made from scratch and fresh. I usually don’t worry about hygiene at all in a vegan restaurant. 

Even if I am not aware of it, my body tells me as well how I feel after a meal. 

Do you have a mantra that you live by?

I don’t know if they are mantras but there are small sentences that guide me through my life decisions. The first one is less is more, and it’s pretty self-explanatory. I also believe in staying kind and respectful towards others. And lastly, I really like this quote, and it’s important, especially for the Chinese audience: Be yourself, and the rest of the quote is, everyone else is already taken.

Yea, I think it’s really important. 

Why is it especially important for the Chinese audience?

Uhm, I don’t know, maybe it’s a cultural thing. We are not educated to be ourselves, however, I do notice that the younger generation already has that awareness. Even though they are struggling when they have to make decisions, it seems they already live a life that is theirs and not their parents. We still have a long way to get there, but we will get there. 

Yes, I believe that too. 

Sustainability Documentary China


Watch it here: The KAILU Docu-Series



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