Engineering change

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 July, 2010, 12:00am

Conn Yuen is founder and director of CO2nnsulting, which helps property firms construct buildings that are more sustainable from an environmental perspective. She also teaches engineering and science courses at the University of Hong Kong.

Tell us about your career

After graduating from the University of Bath, with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1994, I worked at a vacuum cleaner company for a year before reading a master's degree in advanced mechanical engineering at the Imperial College in London. I then did research towards a doctorate in thermal fluids and found a job at the Royal Aeronautical Society's engineering and science data unit.

How did you switch from being a flow engineer into work on sustainability in buildings?

I took a six-month break after spending 18 months at the Royal Aeronautical Society. Eventually, I found myself working for a building consultancy called Battle McCarthy in London. Initially, I didn't know there was a lot of aerodynamics [the study of the motion of air] in buildings, but I went and worked there, and I loved it. I realised the principles governing thermal fluids and buildings are the same - only the scale is different. I got into transferring my knowledge into buildings physics, and I was working with clients like Foster and Partners, and on projects like the Freedom Towers in New York and the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Why did you come to Hong Kong?

After a short while, I left my job and wondered what I was going to do. I had recently made a trip to Hong Kong and thought about coming to work here. I researched about sustainability in Hong Kong and found it was very much in its infancy. I thought maybe I could contribute something. I joined [engineering consultancy] WSP in Britain, and then relocated here in 2005. I left in 2008 to start my own company. We help projects become green, use less energy, water, and produce less waste.

What challenges did you face in setting up your own company?

One was to choose the right people, train and encourage them. What I want is a happy company. I want my employees to feel that they are learning things every day and are welcome to open discussions. Another challenge was that it can be difficult if you are not carrying that corporate identity. When you go into a meeting, people recognise a big company like WSP. It's different when you are a start-up and you have only got a handful of people.

What is your advice for young people?

Follow your interest, even if your parents tell you it's stupid and you are going to be poor. Find out what you are interested in, and you will do it well. As an engineer, you have to be interested in how things work. It is OK if you were a kid and you tore apart your toys, but could not put them back together. If you continue to want to find out how things work, engineering is a good match.

1st Green credentials

Awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) AP certification by US-based Green Building Certification Institute (2008)

Became a certified carbon auditor (2009)

Became a member of the Business Environmental Council's Building Environmental Assessment Method faculty this year