Towards a greener future

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2008, 12:00am

Eco-friendly bodies call for more education on issues to get the message across to the public that a lot must be done soon

Environmental concerns constitute some of today's hottest topics, ranging from air and water pollution to waste disposal, the preservation of natural resources and the sustainable construction of new buildings and infrastructure.

According to the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), because there is such widespread focus on environmental issues in Hong Kong, there is the risk that important environmental topics will become confused, bogged down in bureaucracy or misunderstood by the public.

Daniel Chan Ping-cheung, chairman of HKIE Environmental Disciplinary Advisory Panel and managing director at Daniel Chan & Associates, said Hong Kong would benefit from clearer and more comprehensive government environmental policies and better public education.

'Emphasis should be placed on evaluating the environmental impact of old buildings, more concerted ways to reduce carbon emissions and the use of renewable energy. At the moment the government only aims to use 1 per cent of renewable energy by 2012. This is not even a ripple in an ocean. We should be bold enough to set tougher targets,' Professor Chan said.

Environmental consciousness can be developed through stronger government commitment and better public awareness that can result in better environmental practices implemented throughout the community, he said.

Professor Chan is also concerned that the role of environmental engineers is underplayed and that their contribution and status needs to be brought in line with other engineering disciplines.

He said environmental engineering training provided opportunities to work in any aspect of environmental protection.

While the job security of environmental engineers is good, the ease of breaking into the profession varies over time based on market conditions which are affected by government policies, projects undertaken, priorities and funding. 'Knowing that the efforts of environmental engineers can make a difference is an additional source of satisfaction,' Professor Chan said.

Entry requires a degree in engineering, civil, chemical, mechanical or environmental. Because environmental engineering is so intertwined with people, environmental engineers must understand how people and societies function.

To promote better understanding and the general advancement of good environmental practices, the HKIE Environmental Division organises a variety of activities for members and the public which include technical talks, site visits, annual receptions and seminars. Other professional bodies, including the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, the Association of Engineering Professionals in Society and the Institution of Civil Engineers, also join a concerted effort with the HKIE in advancing the environmental engineering discipline.

Patrick Ng Wing-ming, past chairman of HKIE's Environmental Division and technical director at Atkins China, said: 'Our contribution is designed to help raise the standing of engineers.'

Mr Ng said the nature of environmental work dictated a team platform. The industry draws on many disciplines to carry out environmental assessment or to perform city planning, usually within the context of budgetary constraints and government regulations. 'Finding a balance between meeting regulatory requirements and meeting client budgets often involves finding innovative ways to solve their problems,' Mr Ng said.

He said environmental engineers could find opportunities to work in a wide range of areas including government departments such as the Environmental Protection Department, Water Supplies Department and Drainage Services Department; environmental engineering consulting industries, international engineering industries; and technical and sales representatives of environmental businesses.

James Tam Ping-cheong, deputy chairman of the HKIE Environmental Disciplinary Advisory Panel and former director and general manager at Swire Sita Waste Services, said environmental issues had reached historic proportions and in many cases had been hijacked by politicians and lobby groups who lacked an understanding of the bigger picture.

'This can be most frustrating for environmental professionals because we see attention focused on superficial things that waste resources and detract from more important issues,' said Mr Tam, adding that there should be a more focused and co-ordinated worldwide effort to tackle harmful emissions and climate change.

Mable Chan Mei-ho, an HKIE corporate member, said the industry drew on many disciplines. 'Environmental engineers must be familiar with the knowledge acquired from a wide range of disciplines so that they can apply all the techniques available in modern engineering technology and bring the technology into harmony with the natural environment.'

Kelvin Cheung Ho-man, a civil engineering graduate at Hong Kong University and an HKIE corporate member, said: 'The engineer must also be able to communicate information to management teams across various industries and help them establish plans to include new, environmentally friendly ways of increasing production and decreasing costs.'

This article is part of a series on engineering trends and developments produced in association with the HKIE. It is published on the last Saturday of every month.

Environmental engineering


Chemical oxygen demand a measure of water quality expressed in milligrams per litre, which indicates the mass of oxygen consumed per litre of solution

Respirable suspended particulates are the proportion of total suspended particulates with a size smaller than 10 micrometres and they have the ability to penetrate deeply into the lungs

Carbon footprint is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in the amount of carbon dioxide produced

Key players

Environmental project manager

Environmental consultant

Academic researcher

Environmental engineer

Assistant environmental engineer

Trainee environmental engineer