Green Development Council chairman on a mission to save planet

For Conrad Wong, the promotion of greener building standards is nothing less than a mission to save the planet, as the head of the Hong Kong Green Development Council says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 11:33am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 5:03am

Hong Kong Green Development Council chairman Conrad Wong Tin-cheung has a mission: save the planet.

With more than 20 years of construction project management experience, Wong has been contributing to sustainable development in Hong Kong and leading the industry towards greener practices, in the hope that will minimise environmental impacts while maximising benefits for the city's people.

Wong is also a vice-chairman of Yau Lee Holdings, controlled by the family of the late Henry Fok Ying-tung.

To prove that going green is not a cost but an investment, Yau Lee built its Holiday Inn Express Soho in Sheung Wan with a focus on environmentally friendly features. As a result, it uses about 60 per cent less energy than other similar buildings.

How does the built environment affect daily lives?

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, packed with high-rise buildings. Buildings in Hong Kong account for 90 per cent of electricity use and 60 per cent of carbon-dioxide emissions. A low-carbon, sustainably built environment will play a crucial role in protecting the city's environment.

What has the council done so far? What do you want to achieve during your second term as its chairman?

We have made a number of plans, such as targeting a reduction in energy usage in buildings by 30 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030. The government is now doing a consultancy study.

About a month ago, I had a discussion with Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing and Christine Loh Kung-wai, the undersecretary for environment, about the issue.

If we aim to lower carbon emissions, we have to reduce energy usage in buildings. It is an important part of the issue.

We have launched a number of recognition schemes. In April 2010, we introduced Beam Plus, a comprehensive assessment tool to certify green buildings.

In 2011, the government adopted it as a prerequisite for gross floor area concessions. Since then, there has been significant growth in the number of projects seeking assessment.

We also introduced a number of recognition schemes such as Beam Plus Interiors.

We hope to issue a recognition system for neighbourhoods this year or next. Green buildings are not alone but link to each other. We want to set a benchmark for a green neighbourhood. We will pick one or two areas as trial projects.

But how to encourage developers to turn their existing buildings green is an important issue that I am working on.

The government should think of more incentives or provide more resources to encourage developers to do a better job in their existing buildings, encouraging them to change hardware such as lighting systems to save energy.

Yau Lee developed a hotel, Holiday Inn Express Soho, using green features. What does it demonstrate?

There is always a wrong concept that the cost of building a sustainable development is more expensive, but the cost is actually cheaper from the aspect of the property's lifecycle. The initial cost of constructing the hotel was 5 to 6 per cent higher, but every year it uses about 60 per cent less energy than other similar hotel buildings.

We want to use more examples to tell developers that building green is not spending more money but on the other hand will help them to better control costs. They can even achieve higher prices when the property is offered for sale.

Do Hong Kong developers support green building development?

It's not bad. Every year, one-third of new buildings register with Beam Plus. A total of 555 registered projects were recorded as of August 20, of which about 40 per cent are residential buildings, 17 per cent offices and 17 per cent designated for government, institutional and community use. Others include industrial usage and hotels.

We do not consider it a success as the rate is not 100 per cent.

How do you consider your work a success?

Starting this year, developers will put the Beam Plus recognition on their first-hand sales brochures. The general public will gradually have a concept of what the recognition means. But it takes time. One day, if homebuyers refuse to buy properties which do not have such recognition, we will consider it a success.

How do you allocate your time to Yau Lee and the council?

If I tell you, my shareholders will complain.

The council job is very meaningful.

I have a niece whose job is organ transplantation. One day we discussed what was more important than saving people's lives. That is, saving the planet.

We need to work on green building development as it can save a lot of carbon emissions. To a certain extent, it will help Hong Kong and the world.

If we want to save the earth, green building development is an area that we cannot ignore. I consider it my mission.