Determined drive to reduce carbon footprint

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2011, 12:00am


When it comes to eco-friendly initiatives in Hong Kong, Gateway Apartments has been leading the pack among serviced apartments since 2006 when its environmental committee was formed. The company is doing its part in reducing its carbon footprint despite occasionally incurring additional costs, an unusual characteristic when many firms in the city only look at the bottom line.

Gateway Apartments first looked at plans to be environmentally friendly in 2003 when it replaced its gas boilers with electric heat pumps to reduce air pollution. Three years later, it went even further with a pilot project to install 10 solar panels on the roof of the Tsim Sha Tsui property.

They were tested for two years before adding more to a total of 100 panels, 200 square metres, equally shared between Hampton Court and Sutton Court.

Assistant general manager Rene Holenweger says the initial investment of HK$1.5 million in the solar panels has generated 120,000 kilowatts of renewable energy, mostly used for heating water, saving more than HK$100,000 a year in electricity costs. 'The payback is not attractive, but we are expecting this to pay off within 10 years.'

Nevertheless, Holenweger reports the reduction of 68 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, the equivalent of 3,000 trees planted annually which is not a small achievement.

Another initiative at Gateway Apartments is light bulbs. The 499 apartments there use LED lighting wherever possible, including in all the lifts. 'One bulb costs more than HK$100,' Holenweger says. Areas such as the laundry room and storeroom use motion detectors to switch lighting on and off, while public areas have lighting on timers so they are not all in use late at night when fewer people are around.

Rechargeable batteries are used in the remote controls for televisions and home theatre systems in the apartments, and maintenance staff recharge them at scheduled times.

While Holenweger says the technology hasn't evolved enough for Gateway Apartments to use rechargeable batteries exclusively, staff pagers also use rechargeable batteries.

Other eco-friendly developments at Gateway Apartments extend to taps and showers, with the installation of water-saving shower heads and taps about six years ago. 'The water pressure in the shower head isn't as powerful as regular ones, which is why communication is the key with residents. When you explain to them what you're doing, then they understand and appreciate it,' Holenweger says.

He explains most Gateway Apartments residents are from overseas, particularly from developed countries where they expect the places they live in to have environmentally friendly practices in place. 'People are looking at what you do and the Japanese, in particular, ask what we do to protect the environment. And if it comes down to place A and place B, and they are about the same except one is more eco-conscious than the other, then their mind is made up,' Holenweger says.

The company has also invested in special waste bins in every apartment that encourage residents to separate aluminium, paper, PET bottles and glass from their rubbish. The rubbish is collected daily and the staff sort through the waste again in the basement before distributing it to the recycling companies. In cases such as recycling glass, Gateway Apartments uses its own trucks and drives the used glass out to Tuen Mun every week where it is turned into eco-bricks.

In addition, all paper sent out by Gateway Apartments is printed using recycled paper even though it costs the company 30 per cent more, Holenweger says.

'Recycling and our energy-saving initiatives are labour intensive, but we are a sizeable operation and can afford to do these kinds of things,' he says. 'We also use biodegradable detergent and cleaning agents, and two to three years ago started using environmentally friendly paint.'

He says all this would not have been possible without support from the owners. 'We take our role towards best environmental practices seriously and hope to inspire others, but that can only come about through a strong commitment from the owners.'