The movement towards 'green' architecture is becoming mainstream in the wake of global warming and growing pollution concerns. Globally, the change is being driven more by economic pragmatism than a new-found social conscience: developers are waking up to the fact that environmentally sustainable designs can bring significant financial benefits, such as higher rents and prices and lower operating costs. Hong Kong has not been at the forefront of this environmental change of heart. But the tide is turning, according to Sandy Edge, senior associate and director of architectural projects for Woods Bagot Asia, a global studio at the forefront of green design. 'Although not as well established in Hong Kong and China, the green building trend is catching on fast,' Mr Edge said. 'Developers who do not sell their buildings but continue to own and operate them have been the first to embrace the change as the operating cost savings go directly into their pockets. 'Traditional developers, however, are also starting to realise that green building features are not expensive, are fantastic tools for PR and marketing, and can help to maximise profit.' The spur, especially for Hong Kong's priciest grade-A property, is global tenants who perceive corporate social responsibility as a key element of doing business. 'For these companies, green building design is a mainstream part of their work practice, spurred by the recent public awareness on climate change and energy use which has made green design a hot topic globally,' Mr Edge said. 'Over the past few years, green design has moved from being a concept into a reality. Many companies now demand green office space for their workplaces. 'In many countries green design for cities and buildings is already the norm rather than the exception, driven by public aspirations or government legislation.' Developers are being encouraged by the prospect of lower energy costs, translating into substantial operational savings and premium values. 'A great example of this is our recent Adelaide City Central office development in Australia, where green features enabled a lower floor-to-floor height which allowed the developer to realise two additional floors of office space. 'The building sold off-plan at prices higher than market value. This is the future potential of green building development.' Woods Bagot is a leader in green building design and has gone 'carbon neutral'. The firm even undertakes environmental sustainable design reviews on local projects 'whether clients request it or not'. Mr Edge said: 'Many sustainable solutions do not cost more than traditional methods and are easy to incorporate if you have the know-how.' These more low-tech solutions can range from correct siting of buildings and 'passive solar design' to sustainable material selection. But as the key to green design inevitably involved balancing economic considerations, he said: 'More hi-tech solutions such as solar power do not have an investment payback period that promotes their use at this point. This partly created the early misunderstanding that green design is expensive.' Every architectural practice in Hong Kong is embracing the trend. Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong chairman Andrew Chan Ka-ching said: 'It is a subject very close to my heart.' Ove Arup developed a 'hi-tech' airflow system resulting in lower operation costs at the Sunny Bay MTR station gateway to Hong Kong Disneyland which earned the principal contractor, international practice Aedas, an environmental award from the Hong Kong Institute of Architects. Sustainable design elements include a self-cleaning canopy encouraging natural air flow that reduces energy consumption by up to 30 per cent. Green issues are even extending to construction projects. Developer Swire Properties has recycled all but 1 per cent of waste at its new HK$2 billion One Island East flagship in Quarry Bay. Senior project manager for Swire Properties, Kenneth Ng, said recycling 99 per cent of waste concrete, brick and steel saved from HK$1.6 million to HK$7.6 million under the government's new waste charges scheme, which was introduced last year charging HK$27 to HK$125 a tonne. The only drawback to Hong Kong's 'green design' revolution is expertise. Mr Edge said: 'Career prospects are fantastic in this sector as there is a definite lack of architects and engineers in Asia with knowledge of green design. 'As China has recently taken over from the United States as the main emitter of carbon dioxide, a main cause of climate change, the Chinese government is aware of this issue and is moving quickly to embrace green design for all of the main projects. 'It is a great opportunity for Hong Kong companies to lead the way to create more sustainable cities and buildings for our future and that of our children.'