Over 4,000 businesses and organisations have agreed to switch off external lights late at night as part of a voluntary government charter to curb light pollution. Signatories include big name developers and shopping malls, building management companies, hoteliers, retailers, banks, schools, utilities, and public and non-governmental organisations. Environment secretary Wong Kam-sing said the arrangement would reduce the nuisance lights cause residents at night while saving energy and promoting low-carbon living. Previous studies have found Hong Kong to be the world’s worst city for light pollution, with levels in Tsim Sha Tsui found to be nearly 1,200 times brighter than a normal night sky. “The biggest concern in Hong Kong should be reducing this light nuisance on residents’ sleep,” Wong said. He said progress would be monitored over the next two to three years to see if “more stringent” regulations were needed. Despite calls to impose legislation to tackle light pollution, the government’s Task Force on External Lighting last year proposed the “less draconian” approach of asking businesses to voluntarily switch off lights at preset times. How Hong Kong’s light pollution can ruin your nights and make days a drag The product was the voluntary charter, which mandates businesses who take part to switch off external non-static lights used for decoration, promotion or advertising, as well as rooftop signs by 11pm or midnight, until 7am the next morning. Exemptions will be made for lights used for security and during festive seasons. Those switching off at 11pm will be eligible for a “platinum award”, while those who opt for the midnight option would be given a “gold award”. Neon signs: a shining example of Hong Kong's heritage Edwin Lau Che-feng of the Green Earth environmental group said the charter was a step forward, but switching off lights after-hours was a social responsibility and he questioned why it was “something worth commending”. He suggested there be only one time option. “The noise pollution ordinance sets 11pm as the permitted time. Like noise, light pollution is a [negative] externality, so why shouldn’t it follow the same principle?” said Lau, a task force member. Strike a light: Hong Kong task force shelves legislation on light pollution He said energy wastage in lighting was still rife and pointed to the growing abuse of energy efficient LED lights. And he said many retailers would keep these lights blazing throughout the day, creating “unnecessary energy consumption and nuisance”. Causeway Bay district councillor Yolanda Ng Yuen-ting was sceptical about the scheme as it was not mandatory and the biggest polluters were not targeted. “The moment they said they weren’t going to legislate last year, five to six more giant TVs were installed in Causeway Bay,” she said. “Without legislation, the problem of light pollution is only going to get worse.” Wan Chai district councillor Cheng Ki-kin said a major problem was large advertisement billboards rented out by private single-block residential buildings. “It will be harder to get these private buildings to join the charter,” he said. Caroline Mak Sui-king, who chairs the new working group tasked with promoting the charter, hoped the benefits of lower utility bills and a better corporate image would prompt more organisations to join.