HONG KONG AND China Gas (Towngas), this year's winner of the Environmental Performance Grand Award, builds a convincing economic case for adopting environmentally responsible business practices. Through various initiatives, the company has shown that being green - far from undermining the bottom line - can give it a nudge in the right direction. 'In 1999, we were the first company to use landfill gas, which helped reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 23,000 tonnes as well as reduce our yearly naphtha consumption by around 9,000 tonnes,' said Paul Hui, head of corporate risk management and chairman of the environmental working committee, which oversees the company's green initiatives. Projects such as the one at the Sheung Wan landfill site tap methane-rich emissions produced by the decomposition of rubbish for use as a feedstock, instead of naphtha, in the production of gas for domestic use. The company's first landfill gas venture proved so successful that it had launched a second one, Mr Hui said. Hailed as the biggest endeavour of its kind in the world, the initiative to tap gas at a landfill site on Sha Tau Kok Road in the New Territories is expected to help Towngas save another 75,000 tonnes of naphtha feedstock and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 132,000 tonnes when completed in 2006. Even more impressive was the energy savings. By tweaking building management systems, optimising lift usage, installing energy-saving electronic ballasts and encouraging employees to think green, Towngas slashed $4.3 million from its annual electricity bill at its headquarters in North Point last year. One of the company's most significant energy-saving initiatives last year was the replacement of air-cooled chillers, which employ power-hungry electric fans, with more efficient evaporative condensers, which run on water-cooled chillers, in the North Point building's air-conditioning system, Mr Hui said. More evidence that environmental sustainability and good business can go hand in hand is found in the company's vehicle fleet. Each Towngas vehicle served some 3,000 customers last year, almost double the figure in 1994, and water consumption was reduced by 145,000 cubic metres last year, thanks to water treatment and reuse. Mr Hui stressed that none of this was motivated by a desire for profit. 'A project is evaluated first on its environmental merit before we look at its economic feasibility,' he said. Indeed, a scheme to recover retired gas appliances generated $1 million in scrap metal sales last year, but half that sum went to subcontractors to cover equipment removal costs while the other half was ploughed back into the company's green fund. Other not-for-profit green initiatives worthy of mention include the replacement of polyfoam packaging with paper packaging. 'We attempted to tackle the problem at the source by asking our suppliers to switch to paper packaging. Now 75 per cent of appliances we source from Asia do not use polyfoam packaging,' Mr Hui said. The company also teamed up with Friends of the Earth to launch a polyfoam recycling programme in 2002. 'We set up a collection point with a large container at one of our depots,' said Victor Kwong, loss prevention and environmental manager. 'Whenever the container was full, we would ask a recycler to come round and pick up the polyfoam, which could then be used to make stationery, construction materials, fencing and other products.' The programme collected 2.6 tonnes of polyfoam in its first year and four tonnes last year. Towngas is no stranger to awards for green initiatives. It won the Hong Kong Industry's Environmental Performance Grand Award in 2001 and 2002, and the company has regularly done well at the Hong Kong Eco-Business Awards. Being green was deeply ingrained in the corporate culture, Mr Hui said. 'The whole organisation - from workforce members and subcontractors through to suppliers and dealers - is pulling in the same direction for environmental sustainability,' Mr Hui said. To ensure everyone is working towards a common goal, the company has put in place an organisational structure to monitor its environmental activities, which comprises 12 sub-committees overseen by a working committee that reports to the managing director. At the beginning of the year, the sub-committees collectively set more than 50 targets. Going forward, Mr Hui sees Towngas continuing to explore all possible means to improve the environmental performance of its operations. And externally, it plans to spread the word - encouraging small- and medium-sized enterprises to adopt better environmental practices through an awards scheme and promoting best environmental practices to its joint venture partners in the mainland. 'We have 28 joint ventures in mainland China, and we hope to impart our knowledge to help these partners do a good environmentally responsible job,' Mr Hui said.