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Hong Kong companies have much to do to improve their dismal green credentials

Panellists at the ‘Redefining Hong Kong Debate Series’ urge companies to implement changes to become sustainable and environmentally and socially responsible

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

Hong Kong companies should avoid “greenwashing” their stakeholders and consumers and should instead embed sustainability into their core company philosophies, according to panellists at the latest edition of the “Redefining Hong Kong Debate Series”, organised by the South China Morning Post, on Tuesday.

They urged businesses to improve their risk management, operational excellence, reduce costs and increase efficiencies to reach their goals.

“Greenwashing” is the use of marketing to deceptively portray an organisation’s products, activities or policies as environmentally friendly when they are not.

“If you are greenwashing then you [companies] are ticking boxes for the sake of compliance,” said Pat Dwyer, founder of The Purpose Business, which advises on responsible commercial opportunities in Asia. “[But] if you are going to invest money in it [corporate sustainability] then you better make sure it is more than just a fad, and you can influence the stakeholders.”

There is concern that the level of understanding and awareness in corporate sustainability and environmental, social and governance has deteriorated in Hong Kong and it has fallen behind other cities. And there are also fears that consumers still do not grasp the subject fully.

For example, benchmarking businesses against peers and introducing eco-friendly products will help to raise awareness and education levels about corporate sustainability in the city, the panellists said.

Roger Lee, CEO of TAL and panel member said that as owners of companies they have the real power to change the industry.

TAL Group, as one of the world’s biggest apparel manufacturers that supplies Brooks Brothers, Burberry, J Crew, Michael Kors and Nordstrom, is trying to make changes and embedding corporate sustainability into its business.

TAL is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition that has developed the Higg Index – a set of tools that can help educate consumers about the environmental and social impacts of products they buy.

The Higg Index helps consumers understand why a product, which might use organic cotton instead of polyester, is more expensive to produce and sold at a higher retail price.

The garment industry is the world’s second biggest polluter behind the oil sector, consuming about 25 per cent of the world’s chemicals in textile processing, although consumers may not be aware of the environmental damage it can cause.

“We need to continually be active to help consumers understand so that they can make the right choices,” said Lee.

Ellie Tang, head of sustainability at property developer New World Development, agreed that benchmarks, sustainable practices and certification standards would give consumers confidence in their products and effectively communicate standards of industry leaders to business partners.

However, Hong Kong’s sustainability efforts were seen lagging behind in the real estate sector compared to Singapore in terms of green building certification standards and regulation to ensure a certain level of energy efficiency in existing buildings.

Tang said that as 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s electricity consumption comes from older buildings, higher standards of building performance was needed.

New World was ramping up internal awareness through a top down approach. Senior management and board members are being made aware of the firm’s sustainability agenda in relation to its business priorities, the regulatory landscape and how the group was benchmarked against peers.

“When it comes to disclosure and compliance requirements, we make sure we are putting out quality products and services as we hold ourselves accountable to our shareholders and stakeholders,” Tang said.