While China has grown as an economic power, it is facing a drinking water crisis.

Every year 1.4 million Chinese become ill from their drinking water. Of those 1.4 million people, 60,000 die each year. Additionally, 300 million Chinese face drinking water shortages. While, the Chinese government is investing US $66 billion in a safe drinking water infrastructure, some claim the government should focus on cleaning water and recycling water.

Anyang is an ancient city in Henan Province and is over 4,000 years old. It is the birthplace of Chinese writing and the I Ching. During my first visit to China, I was invited to Anyang to do a social action research study at the Henan Ancai Glass Bulb plant. Touring the plant, I found that they produced glass tubes used for flat screen TV displays.

Over the years, I have discovered that if one wishes to study performance, one simply needs to find joy in the workplace. This occurred for me when I met a group of water workers. Their task was simple. They used a sand and water slurry to polish the glass bulbs. This is quite an ordinary process and didn’t explain the joy and happiness I was experiencing.

As the social action research began, I learned that the water workers were recycling 86% of wastewater from toilets, sink basins and runoff from the company’s roofs. Not only were they recycling water, but were cleaning the wastewater and transforming it into pure drinking water. I learned that in the extremely hot conditions of forging glass bulbs, their co-workers had recently turned to caffeinated colas and become dehydrated. The water workers compensated for this by producing pure drinking water and sharing it throughout the company.

We often think about sustainability as an abstract program benefitting “people, profit and planet.” When we do this, we consult with executives and managers by framing environmental issues and then teaching sustainability models to them.

Social action research is very concrete and straightforward. It has demonstrated that social health and wellbeing generate biological wellbeing that generates financial wellbeing. A simple approach to sustainability can be used to recognize workers for reducing material and energy waste and recycling water for industrial uses.