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Top executives discuss CSR at CUHK conference

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2014, 5:50pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2014, 5:52pm

It is still a common myth that companies trying to be socially responsible can’t also maximise profits, but many executives at CUHK MBA conference on CSR (corporate social responsibility) would disagree.

More than a dozen companies used the occasion to present case studies and examples of how their own CSR programmes have brought tangible value or significant cost savings to their businesses.

“Sustainability and profitability really go hand in hand; you cannot have one without the other,” said Mike Kilburn, environment, Hong Kong Airport Authority, who was a keynote speaker at the event. He explained how initiatives to reduce freshwater demand, lower carbon emissions, manage food waste and promote green food choices were not only good for the environment, but has also enhanced the airport's reputation and saved costs.

Implementing a “hire-back” practice for airport contractors also had a clear benefit and made it possible to maintain high levels of service quality. It means that when the airport changes contractors in areas such as baggage handling and cleaning, the new contractor is required to hire back at least 40 per cent of the existing staff.

At Hysan Place, a major commercial development in Causeway Bay, CSR has been merged with building design. The sky garden, an artificial wetland, and a rooftop farm have ensured extra green spaces. In addition, an opening in the centre of the building allows for improved air ventilation. As Chan Lai-kiu, director of Hysan Development Company, pointed out, this is especially important in a part of the city where congestion and the heat island effect are all too common.

President of CSR Committee of CUHK MBA, Herman Kam

“When you improve the environment of the building, you also increase the value,” Chan said, adding that the green spaces, especially the rooftop farm, allowed Hysan to engage with staff, tenants and the community in new ways.

Calvin Kwan, general manager of sustainability for The Link Management, outlined similarly ambitious plans in terms of CSR. He wants to preserve traditional wet markets, create jobs, and change public perceptions. His first step was to re-design the wet market at Lok Fu Estate and, in doing this, he knows that The Link can look forward to more shoppers spending more cash.

When you improve the environment of the building, you also increase the value
Chan Lai-kiu, director of Hysan Development Company

“There are 93 wet markets in Hong Kong,” Kwan said, going on to explain that many of them are now perceived as crowded and unhygienic. However, as part of the Lok Fu revamp, Kwan and his team are now promoting the term “fresh markets” and a modernised design will highlight a sense of space, better hygiene, eye-catching displays, and easier access for shoppers.

Apart from reviving a local industry, this initiative is also changing lives. It will mean improved business for stall holders, new services such as payment by Octopus, and a source of encouragement for the next generation to take over established family businesses.

The balance between sustainability and profitability was also a key consideration for the CSR case competition. The winning team from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) studied a problem confronting Cathay Pacific Catering Services. It focused on reducing the waste and weight of in-flight meals and the winners proposed a solution which would improve pre-planning and promote recycling.  

The team referred to the experience of another company which removed an olive from in-flight meals to reduce weight and thereby, reduced fuel costs. In one year, just by removing olives, around US$40,000 was saved.  

Other ideas from the winners included using new materials for food containers and making food choices which reduced the use of utensils and serving equipment.

Team members Alexandra Ho, Sean Kerr, Brandon Kung and Kevin Yeung won a cash prize and an internship at Swire Pacific to explore ways to implement their proposed solution.