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Greener Pastures

China Factory Pollution  

Hong Kong environmental businesses are well-placed to provide pollution solutions for the Chinese mainland 
(photo: EyePress)

What a difference awareness makes. Thirty years ago, when Professor Peter Hills, Director of the Kadoorie Institute at the University of Hong Kong, first started his environmental work here, Hong Kong still had a manufacturing base. He recalls that in those days, few if any industries were "green" in the current sense, and many actively opposed pollution-control legislation. "Public support was also generally very limited, as environmental regulation was seen as a potential threat to the economy and livelihoods."

Over three decades, Professor Hills has been part of "a significant change in thinking and attitude." He’s also seen Hong Kong develop as a centre for green enterprises spanning the full gamut of environmental technology and solutions that companies – and their customers – are demanding. Businesses in the areas of energy and carbon auditing, sustainability auditing and reporting, and the broad area of corporate social responsibility have also started to flourish. 

  Professor Peter Hills


Professor Peter Hills, Director of the Kadoorie Institute, the University of Hong Kong
Professor Hills believes that Hong Kong’s strengths lie in the software side of the environmental business. "We have R&D capabilities, the Hong Kong Science Park, and a pool of talent with environmental qualifications. Hence, there are opportunities for collaboration with Chinese mainland research centres and companies," he said.

"One area where Hong Kong is strong is in project management, and this is something that could be marketed more extensively. Hong Kong also has many environmental consultancies, some of which have a strong regional profile."

Thriving Marketplace

"The sector is alive," said John Herbert, a Welsh-born engineer who formed Kelcroft, an environmental consultancy for the construction industry in 1999. Demand for environmental consultancy services has increased. More companies are adopting corporate policies that require sustainability reporting, and businesses of all sizes are looking to reduce their carbon footprint. "There is growing recognition, too, that being greener not only saves costs in the day-to-day running of business and manufacturing, but elevates its image in the eyes of their customers, thus bolstering competitive advantage," Mr Herbert said.



He noted, however, that the public is tired of being "green-washed" by claims that are not backed by science. Hence, more businesses have engaged independent consultants such as Kelcroft, which can verify the environmental efficacy of products, services and buildings.

The Hong Kong Government’s wider recognition of the independent Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method (BEAM) rating system, in January 2011, has opened the door to "a vast market" of green solutions for the construction sector, Mr Herbert said.

"We expect that growth will be exponential for green building advice, greener products, and independent testing and advice. On the back of that, we expect our turnover to more than triple in the next couple of years."

Cross-Border Cooperation

  John Herbert


John Herbert, Director, Kelcroft

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) has also identified opportunities arising from the Central Government’s support of Hong Kong enterprises' participation in clean development mechanism (CDM) projects on the mainland. This was among the announcements made by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang during a visit to Hong Kong in August.

HKGCC Chairman Anthony Wu explained that CDM is a market mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol. This allows developed countries to help the developing world conduct emissions’ reduction projects and, in doing so, meet part of their own emissions reduction targets. It also allows developing countries to switch to greener production and consumption models.

"In the past, Hong Kong enterprises could not take up majority interests in CDM projects on the mainland because it was difficult to define a ‘a Hong Kong enterprise’ due to the one country, two systems policy. Today, however, such barrier is removed after the Chamber’s lobbying efforts. And as a result, over 30 companies have already applied for a certificate as a Hong Kong-invested enterprise from the Hong Kong Government," he said.

Anthony Wu  

Anthony Wu, Chairman, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce



Servicing the Environment

The move opens the door for Hong Kong environmental businesses to capture opportunities in the region and globally, Mr Wu said. "The development of environmental projects such as new energy, renewable energy and sewage treatment plants on the mainland offers huge potential for Hong Kong enterprises. In particular, for projects that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions; for example, advanced countries could supply the technology, while Hong Kong would provide the financial services tools.

"We can also act as the middleman to enhance cooperation with mainland enterprises. By seizing the opportunities that these projects are creating, Hong Kong companies would not only help the country and take a step closer towards a low-carbon economy, but also facilitate Hong Kong’s development into a technology-transfer centre, as well as carbon emissions trading centre."

Related Links
Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce 
Kadoorie Institute, the University of Hong Kong 

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