Dr. Allan Yang is the director of U-Haul Corporate Sustainability. Here, in his own words, he details his journey from China to the U.S. and how he got interested in sustainability.
By Dr. Allan Yang
I was born in a province of southwest China named for its “Four Rivers.” From an early age, I saw these once-revered rivers being polluted by people and industry. This environmental degradation of the water and soils made an impact on me and provided a looking glass into my future education and career.
Both of my parents were senior chemical engineers for a large chemical firm in China. I was fascinated by the unique chemical reactions that they studied, because many of these reactions created exciting and unique outcomes. However, it was the existence of dynamic equilibriums, among chemical reactions, that caught my attention. In a dynamic equilibrium, the rate of loss is equal to the rate of gain and this creates zero net change in the system.
I found this system of thinking to be relevant to the world in which we live, because it mirrors modern thoughts about sustainability: to extract natural resources at a rate that is equal to their replenishment. If societies take only what they need at a reasonable rate there will be enough resources left for many future generations to sustain themselves.
My thoughts about environmental situations were reawakened when I was in college, because China was experiencing a historical economic transformation and aimed to be the manufacturing capital of the world. The many manufacturing plants there caused soil degradation, air pollution and water pollution. I began to study the early life cycle of products, which included processes such as material extraction.
After I graduated with a degree in product design, I started working on a master’s degree. While doing research for my thesis, I came across a keyword—“sustainability”—in a professor’s research at Arizona State University, and it really interested me. At the time, no other professors listed sustainability as their research topic. A couple of years later, after I had come to the U.S. to work on my Ph.D., that word played a key role in my decision to attend ASU and study sustainability.
Years later, in 2006, I posted my résumé online and got a call from U-Haul. The recruiter told me that I was the only one he could find who included sustainability as a keyword on their résumé. During my first interview with J.T. Taylor (President, U-Haul International Phoenix Operations), I learned that U-Haul already had been applying sustainable thought toward their business practices—“Economy and Effectiveness,” or “E&E.” Today, the sustainability I work to employ throughout the Company simply expands on these principles.
I have a passion for sustainability, so it didn’t take me long to develop a passion for truck sharing, which is a core business model of U-Haul. The idea is that the essence of truck sharing is sustainable mobility.
As U-Haul is a large international company that has far-reaching responsibilities toward the environment, the economy and society, I find that my work and efforts are exponentially represented. U-Haul is part of the public infrastructure with thousands of truck-rental locations. Also, we have a trend-setting business model in regard to sustainability and we have the ability to transform cities.
Every day I wake up hopeful that I will find better ways to introduce innovative ideas and feed my passion to further promote sustainability through U-Haul shared-use business. I believe that it can contribute to the dynamic equilibrium in our global community … balanced with environmental protection, social responsibility and economic efficiency.