In the mid-1980s, after taking his degree in England, Richard Au Yeung Sei-kwok took the unusual step of working on the mainland. After years of commercial success, the entrepreneur has taken another unorthodox step - pursuing the opportunities thrown up by emissions trading Businessmen and environmental activists may often be in confrontation, but Richard Au Yeung Sei-kwok has decided to play both roles. Having worked in the commercial arena for 24 years and run his own business for 12, the 48-year-old has now dedicated himself to the emissions trading project agreed under the Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change. 'Profit and conservation are not mutually exclusive - if there is a mechanism to commercialise environmental protection incentives,' says Mr Au Yeung, chairman and chief executive of carbon credit trading agent Enew, a company he set up in May last year. He came across the business opportunity by chance, when he learned about the international convention and the idea of carbon trading in a conversation with a Japanese friend in 2003. 'At first I didn't quite believe this idea. I thought: get cash for making less pollution? Is there really such a free lunch in the world?' But after researching the topic and studying the protocol, the entrepreneur - who had run various kinds of businesses including property, recreation facilities and advertising - decided the environmental project was profitable. With his extensive personal network on the mainland, he started lobbying municipal government officials, farm owners and industrialists to engage in the trade. It was not an easy task. Although the nation had signed the protocol as early as 1998, many provincial and city officials knew nothing about the issue. 'They had never heard of carbon credit trading. When I approached one official in a northeastern province about the matter, he said: buy coal? You should go to Shanxi !' he recalls with a laugh. He also visited farms and explained to owners how the straw of rice plants and pig faeces could be used for generating power, and he went to factories to teach industrialists how to cut emissions. It took him about 18 months to two years from the beginning of lobbying to the completion of a transaction. 'I didn't know the production process was so wasteful until I really saw such a large volume of materials could be saved up for alternative uses.' Even as a boss, Mr Au Yeung has to withstand tough working conditions. 'It is very unpleasant. I need to go into all the dirty places with pig faeces, coal burners or, in the case of paper factories, scraps floating in the choking air.' Even though he has six employees, he insists on going to sites himself. 'It is worthwhile going and I am used to harsh conditions.' He says his adaptability to hardship comes from his early training on the mainland. Although educated overseas, in 1985 he opted to develop his career in the then backward mainland after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from Newcastle University in England, an unusual decision for graduates at that time. 'I joined a local printing firm after returning home from studying abroad in 1984. One year later I was given two choices: to stay at the company's Hong Kong headquarters or to go to the mainland and help develop the China market,' he says. He was sent to work in northeastern provinces and Shandong , and his career subsequently took him to Hubei , Hunan , Guangdong and Jiangxi . 'I visit the mainland frequently and I learn new things from there every year.' Mr Au Yeung is also a standing committee member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and a delegate to the Heilongjiang provincial committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. He said he hoped measures recently announced by the Hong Kong government to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol would help clean the air. The city is included in the protocol as part of China. 'I thought: get cash for making less pollution? Is there really such a free lunch in the world?'