Over the past few years, Hongkongers have faced the smoggy reality of environmental degradation. Recycling still lags behind other world cities, air pollution remains shockingly high and illegal dumping, overfishing and habitat destruction continues, but public awareness of green issues is growing. Many Hong Kong businesses are taking responsibility for their impact on the environment and tailoring their practices to meet the growing number of green-savvy customers and their appetite for environmentally friendly goods and services. From financial institutions, construction companies and power suppliers to producers of cosmetics, clothing, household goods and food, many companies are making an effort to curb energy usage and cut down on waste. Many of Hong Kong's large businesses, which employ thousands of people, rent huge office space, and use more resources and produce more waste than small enterprises, are taking steps to curb their negative impact. Company-wide, sometimes global, programmes to help the environment, such as separating waste for recycling, staff education campaigns on turning off lights, computers and air conditioners when not in use, and reusing paper are becoming more common. While these internal programmes were doing good work, Jacqui Dixon, senior project manager of CSR Asia, said they were just a small step in the right direction. 'When people think about the environment,' she said, 'they think about internal systems such as streamlining energy use. But there is so much more potential if you think out of the box.' Leading the way in financial institutions thinking beyond daily business practice is HSBC, the world's first bank to go carbon-neutral. Teresa Au, head of corporate sustainability Asia-Pacific region at HSBC, said the firm achieved this goal in 2005 through a three-step plan. 'First, we sorted out our own house - we streamlined our operational practices to reduce energy use and waste, making sure things like air conditioners and taps were all as environmentally friendly as they could be,' she said. 'Then we started to buy green energy; in the US, a third of our energy comes from green sources, but in Hong Kong as there is no green energy we have to rely on what our suppliers can give us. The third step involves offsetting all the carbon dioxide we produce by investing in green technologies such as wind farms that give us carbon credits. This has the added investment of supporting green businesses.' The bank has other initiatives, including partnering with four leading environmental charities to raise awareness of climate change, arranging visits to Hong Kong's wetland reserves, installing small wind turbines on the roof of the head office in Central and on staff residential buildings, and launching a green credit card that is made of materials free of chlorine and toxic substances. For every purchase made by the holder of a green card, 0.1 per cent of the amount spent will be used to set up roof gardens in 10 local schools. The company also recycles the organic waste produced in some of its buildings' kitchens. Ms Au said the kitchen waste processing system saved US$1,200 a year and reduced landfill waste by 30 tonnes a year. HSBC has also set up a roof garden in its Mong Kok office with club facilities for staff. The garden is an attractive zone with plants and an area decked with a recycled wood-plastic composite. Solar panels provide the energy to run the garden's lights at night and help to cut down up to 1 tonne of carbon dioxide annually. The water that runs through the building's water-chilling system, which has replaced some of the air conditioners, is used for irrigation. The garden provides natural cooling for the floors below, which has also reduced the energy needed to provide air cooling. Ms Au said the temperature on the few floors directly below the garden had dropped by a few degrees Celsius. Ms Au said the garden, which was tended by trained staff from the Hong Chi Association for the mentally handicapped, had been a great success in raising awareness of green issues and providing staff with a green zone in the concrete jungle. The garden can take 20 to 30 people and is fully booked on weekends one or two months in advance for staff parties and barbecues. Some of the other financial institutions playing their part in greening Hong Kong and developing sustainable business include Dutch bank ABN Amro, Bank Sarasin headquartered in Switzerland, and US firm Lehman Brothers, which has firm-wide initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint, and Hong Kong-based activities such as teaming up with Friends of the Earth for tree planting and beach clean-ups. Citibank Hong Kong has developed an internal website with tips for staff on how to be more environmentally friendly at work and home. The company also has a fund that supports community-level education on green themes. Lights in the bank's offices are turned off for 30 minutes every Friday at lunchtime, stationery is recycled and the bank manages the energy consumption of its neon signs across the territory. Cathay Pacific is another major company taking the reins in the drive to help the environment. It has initiated projects from using lighter cargo containers and stripping paint off freighters - a gleaming silver Boeing 747 weighs 200kg less than a painted one. It also works with the International Air Transport Association to improve air traffic management and find efficient flight paths to save fuel. Its recycling of onboard waste is improving - the carrier now collects 64 per cent of plastic bottles and 27 per cent of cans on inbound flights which are then processed in Hong Kong. Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is raising environmental standards in the global hospitality industry with its wide-ranging corporate social responsibility activities. The group set up a committee in 2006 to address its impact in the areas of the environment, employees and the community, health and safety, supply-chain management, and stakeholder relations. Two of its many targets are to reduce group-wide energy consumption figures by 12 per cent and carbon dioxide emissions per room per night by 6.7kg, by the end of this year. The group has fitted all guest rooms with water-saving devices in taps and showers and there are energy-saving lamps in more than half the group's guest rooms. The group also aims to earn ISO14001 certification, the international environmental management system standard, for all its hotels and resorts. Symon Bridle, chief operating officer of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts and chairman of the group's Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, said that for hotels, consumption was a huge issue. 'We work hard to minimise the amount of energy and resources we use; this benefits us as well as the environment,' he said. Complementing the group's global programmes are locally driven initiatives, and Ms Dixon of CSR Asia said these were an important part of any environmental programme. 'Multinationals developing green initiatives because head office is driving it can only go so far,' she said. 'You need to ensure that green activities are locally relevant. The opinions of local experts, the media and the community all make up a picture of what's really needed.' The Shangri-La group's local programmes include biodiversity and conservation projects. The Rasa Ria Resort in Sabah, Malaysia, includes a rehabilitation centre for baby orang-utans, while the Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa in Oman has a ranger to raise awareness of the country's endangered sea turtles. A coral garden replanting project plays a central role in marine conservation at the group's Fijian Resort and Spa, Yanuca Island. Shangri-La hotels in Hong Kong recycle paper, aluminium and cooking oil, which is reconstituted into industrial soap. Old lights are collected by a government-recommended waste disposal company so that the mercury in the lights does not poison the ground in landfills. The company is also hoping to instigate glass recycling. Mr Bridle said: 'Until now there has been no glass recycling in Hong Kong. But this may be changing and we have approached a factory and hope to work with them.' Mr Bridle said that it was the duty of all major cities to take comprehensive steps to help the environment. 'Many companies in Hong Kong are setting up programmes to reduce their impact on the world and the government is also developing initiatives,' he said. 'If we work as a collective, small things as well as big things all add up to make a difference. Everyone should get involved.'