Hong Kong interior design

How green can you be in Hong Kong? Conservation group's office shows the way

An environment-friendly office doesn't have to cost more upfront, as Conservation International's Green Sky office refit shows, and it should save money in the long run

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 September, 2015, 10:23am

Despite escalating energy costs, one 1,200 sq ft Hong Kong office with four staff members manages to operate all day for a monthly electricity bill of HK$449 (excluding air conditioning).

"It's not rocket science," says Jude Wu, managing director of Conservation International Hong Kong. It is, rather, a matter of careful, creative, intelligent design - and prioritising trade-offs.

The not-for-profit outfit Wu heads is part of global operation Conservation International, established in 1987 to improve human well-being through the care of nature. It expanded to Hong Kong last year when Wu moved from Washington, DC to take the reins.

It is important for an environmental NGO to walk the sustainability talk, but at the same time budgets are scrutinised. Conservation International was fortunate to receive private funding to outfit its office in Windsor House, Causeway Bay, Wu said, for while its work focuses on nature campaigns and projects, "the organisation is equally committed to minimising its own environmental footprint for a greener Hong Kong".

Called Green Sky, the office opened in May 2015 as the first in Hong Kong to achieve platinum rating in Hong Kong Green Building Council's BEAM Plus Interiors programme, the standard recognising the most eco-conscious spaces in the city.

The fit-out involves a modular system of eco-friendly, moveable glass partitions called Genius Walls by American company KI, manufactured in Shenzhen. They take just a few days to install or dissemble, so may be easily relocated to a future office space. "As smaller tenants in Hong Kong are often restricted to only two- or three-year leases, planning ahead to reuse building materials saves money and reduces construction waste," Wu explains.

In addition, 59 per cent of the original site's internal walls, glazing, doors, ceilings and flooring were reused, and the remaining demolition waste was sent to a recycling plant in Tuen Mun.

All of the loose office furniture was purchased second hand - at 60 per cent of the cost of new furniture - which freed up funds to invest in other green features such as a real-time energy monitoring technology, and carbon offsets from Conservation International's Carbon Fund which help protect Amazon forests in Peru.

Another innovative product showcased at the office is Net Effect carpet from US company Interface, made from recyclable materials.

"The company pays fishermen from small fishing communities in the Philippines to collect discarded fishing nets, which helps protect the sea and marine life while supplementing local incomes," says Wu.

Green Sky is naturally rich in daylight, reducing the reliance on artificial lighting (all low-energy and long-life LED bulbs), with motion sensors switching on lights only when someone is in the room.

Water conservation is achieved through low flow water aerators on the taps (for estimated annual water savings of 60 per cent), and a water filter installed on the pantry tap replaces the need for plastic bottled water.

"By using eco-friendly paint and adhesives, and no ozone-depleting substances during construction, staff and guests can enjoy extremely fresh air inside the office," said Wu, noting that Green Sky is the recipient of a Hong Kong government indoor air quality award for excellence.

Wu says that most of the products used are readily available in Hong Kong, where green buildings is a nascent market compared to the US. She welcomes visitors to her office to show just what can be done.

Green Sky's fit-out cost US$110,000 - utilising the full grant amount - which enabled extras not strictly necessary for such an office (such as the energy-tracking technology), but useful for demonstrating green innovations. Wu asserts that, at about HK$740 per square foot - as compared to a typical office fit-out of between HK$500 and HK$900 per square foot - Green Sky shows that green doesn't need to cost more.

"A greener office reduces costs in the long run, increases staff morale and productivity, and showcases the organisation as a forward-thinking community player."

Kelvin Hah, Green Sky's interior designer and a BeeXergy consultant, agrees the project shows that green isn't a luxury. "As pioneers we're paving the way for real change and figuring out what works. By sharing our experience, we can inspire others to make the same changes and make it easier for all to transform the workplace."

With over 11 million sq ft of office space in Hong Kong, Jude Wu added, "every investment in green office features is a worthwhile investment in the future".