Green loans the answer for greener living
The man tipped to be the next environment minister has held out the prospect of better mortgage terms and government fee concessions for buyers of properties that meet environmental standards.
Veteran architect Wong Kam-sing said it could be the right time in about two years to introduce green mortgages for such flats to encourage people to take more notice of the effect of buildings on the environment.
'It will create interest in the market by making green performance a factor in property buying,' Wong - who has 20 years' experience in designing sustainable buildings - said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
'Property can be the biggest investment in life and people should pay more attention to its environmental aspects.'
Buyers who gain a recognised rating under an assessment scheme run by the Hong Kong Green Building Council might enjoy financial incentives from mortgage providers or the government.
The most common measure being adopted in Canada and Australia is a special interest rate for energy-efficient homes. Another possibility could be a reduction of government fees like stamp duty, Wong said.
As a founding member of the council, he initiated talks with local banks on providing green mortgages more than a year ago.
He thinks the talks will begin to bear fruit in the next two years, as the Beam-Plus assessment scheme, introduced in 2010 and covering such aspects as energy consumption and water use, becomes more popular.
'By then, some residential developments awarded the green certificates will be on the market,' said Wong, who is likely to head an environment bureau with a new policy responsibility for green buildings.
The government is already trying to get developers involved in building green. Since April last year the Development Bureau has been asking them to subject themselves to assessment under the scheme as a precondition for obtaining the floor-area concessions that they enjoy for introducing so-called green features.
But the bar is likely to be raised further in future.
Wong said he believed more stringent conditions could be imposed on developers asking for concessions in the future, including the provision of cross-ventilation windows for flats and improving insulation through window design and even the colour of buildings.
'To profit from broader sea views, some developers design flats with a glass wall curtain even though the flats are facing west. It leads to more energy consumption as more heat gets in,' Wong said.
Asked if green design would drive up flat prices, he said the construction cost accounted for a small proportion of the total development cost of a flat and living a low-carbon life was a global trend.
Wong said green buildings would play a key role in helping to save energy. He called for a master plan that spelt out the targets to be met on different environmental issues such as air, waste and climate.
He believes the city should have no difficulty in cutting power consumption by a third by 2030, which is similar to the target set by Singapore. But he is concerned whether Hong Kong can provide enough professionals in the field.
'Singapore has been investing heavily to train thousands in a decade, but all we have is a university offering a designated course on green building to about 20 people, most of them being mainlanders,' he said, referring to Chinese University.
Wong also hopes the government can take a lead by saving energy in its new and existing office buildings to encourage private business to follow suit. He called for a carrot-and-stick approach to encourage businesses to upgrade their office buildings and shopping malls.
Wong is now a director of sustainable design with Ronald Lu and Partners.