The city's chilly shopping malls were supposed to be giving shoppers a warmer reception this summer, but some are failing to live up to their promise to the government to turn down the air conditioning, a South China Morning Post investigation has found.
Temperature samples taken by the Post late last month and early this month at 18 of the 100 malls that signed the government's energy-saving charter showed most stuck to the target of 24 to 26 degrees Celsius they agreed to when the charter came into force last month.
The charter was intended to help reduce the contribution of commercial buildings to carbon emissions and climate change.
But at others, including Elements, Pioneer Centre, New Town Plaza and Pacific Place, temperatures were as low as 23 degrees in some areas, dropping to 20.4 degrees near air conditioning vents and doorways.
About half of the shops at the malls were also colder than 24 degrees. The coldest was a branch of the Sasa cosmetic chain at Pioneer Centre in Prince Edward, at 20.9 degrees.
Some malls insisted they were sticking to the pledge despite the chilly spots, as their agreement with the government was not about the 'absolute temperature range', and they were allowed to deviate from the target as long as the mean readings were within the range.
Some also said the charter only covered the mall's public areas and did not apply to tenants, who could adjust temperature setting independently.
A spokesman for the MTR Corporation, which runs Elements, at the foot of the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon, said: 'Due to various technicalities, the temperature at particular points of a mall may vary, but the average temperature has been maintained at the pledged range.'
A spokesman for Pacific Place, the luxury mega-mall in Admiralty, said managers there were sampling temperatures over spaces of 1,000 square metres, twice as stringent as the charter's requirements, and the company's records showed the average reading was 24 degrees.
Pioneer did not respond to queries while managers at New Town Plaza in Sha Tin said they had followed government guidelines.
At K11, the art mall in Tsim Sha Tsui, a few spots were marginally cooler than 24 degrees. The company said it would fine-tune temperatures and expand monitoring to cover 40 locations. It said readings had been within the range agreed with the government. K11 has also asked its tenants to comply with the target. Managers at the mall's Gay Giano store said they had already made adjustments after its temperature was found to be 21.8 degrees.
In response to the findings, the Environmental Protection Department said keeping temperature constant was not practical, though it had previously advocated setting air temperature at constant 25.5 degrees. It said a one-degree temperature increase could lead to a 10 per cent rise in power bills.
It said: 'Given the high flow of people and large number of entrances and exits of shopping malls, it is more practical to keep the average temperature within a range for the whole shopping mall rather than at specific points of the mall.'
Some 88 malls owned by 16 developers originally signed up to the charter, but the number has increased to 100, from 17 developers, since the Post started questioning mall owners and the government.
One of the newcomers is Olympian City, Sino Group's flagship mall in West Kowloon. The group nominated eight malls originally, but has since added four more.
The Link Reit, which owns malls on public housing estates, was criticised for not including its popular Lok Fu mall in the charter. It said the eight it had put forward were 'randomly selected'.
The Wharf Group refuses to nominate any of its malls, which include Harbour City and Times Square, because of the movement of people around the malls. Cheung Kong Group and Fortune Reit also snubbed the charter.
Dr William Yu Yuen-ping, head of the climate programme at WWF Hong Kong, said the charter was a good start. 'It has been difficult to convince the malls as they all want to have level playing fields among them. They don't want to lose their customers to other malls,' he said.
Gabrielle Ho Ka-Po, from the environmental group Green Sense, said the situation had improved since the group's study in 2008, which found malls with temperatures as low as 20 degrees. But she said the charter should cover the mall tenants as well to make it more effective. Shoppers accustomed to finding an escape from the searing summer heat in the malls had mixed views.
Li Xiang, a student from Shenzhen, said: 'Two or three years ago, the malls were especially cold, but now it's just right.' Others however, still find them too cool. Karen Milne, a Hong Kong resident, browsing through Landmark in Central, said: 'The malls here are at the other extreme to the temperatures outdoors.'