Action needed against light polluters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 May, 2013, 4:11am

Friends of the Earth (HK) has handled a lot of light pollution complaints, including excessive lighting problems caused by international businesses. This raises questions about the role of the business sector.

For example, Apple claims on its website to be a caring company which embraces energy conservation. I have visited the company's stores at International Finance Centre, Hysan Place and Festival Walk to check complaints of excessive light pollution.

At its IFC store, for example, which closes at 9pm every night, we discovered on multiple occasions that at 2am all the internal shop lighting was still on. This was completely out of tune with the surrounding quiet environment. At its store in Hysan Place (like IFC another building with green awards), Apple's three floors around midnight had spotlights, fluorescent tubes, and literally 500 lamps still on, clearly disturbing the surrounding areas.

On its website Apple defends its track record regarding environmental protection; however, if it keeps its lights on after midnight its claims to help curb climate change are hardly convincing. Here we have an international brand which is paying lip service to environmental and social responsibility.

Samsung, Apple's rival, is no better. A few years ago, across the top of two buildings in Wan Chai, it erected a large ultra-high definition television screen.

Initially, I received complaints from across the harbour, in Tsim Sha Tsui, from people saying that they could not stand the disturbing flashing light of the screen. I even got complaints from residents of luxury flats in West Kowloon. Finally, even some Tsuen Wan residents also could not tolerate the glare of the HD screen.

What has the government done? In August 2011 it established the Task Force on External Lighting. However, the majority of the members have vested interests in keeping the status quo.

Over the past two years it has dragged its feet, failing to fulfil its purpose of protecting the public interest and the environment.

Its chairman, Professor Lam Kin-che, said at its last meeting that yet another special meeting was required on May 20, to resolve a debate within the task force about an appropriate level for the guidelines regarding light pollution. Given that this is a problem that affects Hong Kong during the day and at night, I hope it can finally come up with some positive proposals.

Chu Hon-keung, senior environmental affairs manager, Friends of the Earth (HK)