First steps along a long road

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 June, 2012, 12:00am


Businesses in Hong Kong are increasingly realising that going green doesn't have to cost the earth.

From basic waste reduction to long-term strategies on reducing carbon footprints, local companies are addressing their environmental impact at what green groups say is a more meaningful level.

'That is, they have taken at least one more step beyond just sponsorship,' explains Edwin Lau, director of Friends of the Earth.

The green group works with small- and medium-sized enterprises to large multinationals.

'Nowadays, they are quite keen to have their own initiative rather than just giving support to charities or NGOs [non-governmental organisations],' he says.

Larger companies with bigger pockets - banks, airlines, utilities, insurance firms and property giants - tend to take the lead, devising both long- and short-term plans.

For example, among the MTR's environment plans is a long-term reduction of its carbon footprint.

Its Carbon Assessment Initiative looks at how rail systems are designed, constructed, operated and maintained, and how emissions can be minimised at all stages.

Companies such as Swire Properties likewise aim to reduce their carbon footprint by setting 10-year energy-reduction targets.

Swire has also set a target to reduce waste from its operational buildings to landfill by 35 per cent by next year.

The company has achieved 6 per cent energy savings since 2008, and sets out its other achievements in an annual sustainability report.

Last year, for example, the company recycled more than 35,000kg of glass bottles and increased the re-use of potable water by 43 per cent.

Many of these corporations have realised another upside to being more environmentally conscious is the savings they make.

Lau says that 'most corporations are trying to get more out of each individual staff member within a tight budget'.

Staff members are thus encouraged to cut energy, their material consumption and recycle.

Maggie Brooke, board member of the Business Environment Council (BEC), agrees.

BEC is a non-profit group set up in 1989 that promotes corporate social and environmental responsibility. It has a network of 20,000 companies with a combined market capitalisation of HK$3 trillion and 1 million employees.

According to Brooke, most local companies that take environmental responsibility seriously will save money over the long term.

Pressure for businesses to improve their environmental track record has partly come from the public, she notes. Overseas demand for greener practices has also played a role.

'Certainly, with property, we can see quite clearly because of overseas people coming in and insisting certain things are done, that's driving it, because they simply won't go into buildings that don't provide it,' Brooke says.

With smaller firms, it tends to be the minority who are interested in becoming more environmentally conscious, given that many of these businesses are simply too small to have a major impact.

'It's slowly spreading,' Brooke explains. 'Because some of them are so small, it's difficult for them to take action on their own behalf.'

Public perception of how businesses are responding to Hong Kong's myriad environmental problems has led to a series of awards to give prominence to the main performers.

The Hong Kong Awards for Environmental Excellence (HKAEE) started in 2008 to acknowledge companies that adopt green initiatives.

HKAEE is led by the Environmental Campaign Committee alongside the Environmental Protection Department and in conjunction with nine organisations, including BEC, the Advisory Council on the Environment, the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Hong Kong Industries.

Companies are divided into sectors, including the construction industry and retail, as well as financial, legal and business consulting services.

Likewise, the Green Building Awards, organised by the Hong Kong Green Building Council and the Professional Green Building Council, give recognition to building-related projects with a focus on sustainability and the environment.

This year, the award theme is 'Towards Zero Carbon', a unified goal for the Green Building movement of Hong Kong.

Among the completed buildings nominated are the Hong Kong Design Institute & Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education; Green 18; Ambulatory Care Block at Tseung Kwan O Hospital; the Tung Chung Swimming Pool Complex; Siu Sai Wan Complex; Opus Hong Kong on Stubbs Road; and the International Commerce Centre.

As Leung Man-kit, deputy director of sustainability design at architecture firm Ronald Lu & Partners, explains, making buildings 'greener' in Hong Kong is a process that is gradually evolving.

'The technology has been there ... but it is expensive and the uptake in Hong Kong has yet to improve,' he says.

Developers tend to take a more speculative view on the long-term prospects for buildings.

'Looking, for example, overseas or even in China, the actual building energy performance, rather than the design performance, needs to be looked at,' he says. 'If you want to control and measure how well we are doing, and manage the process, at the moment we don't have that.'