Greener days ahead

green plots

One would think that in a city where the proverbial colour of money—green—would somehow inspire more “green” initiatives. Alas, Hong Kong is still lagging behind the rest of the world on that front. True, more developers are including sustainability in their DNA, and heeding architects, like Rocco Yim’s Rocco Design Architects and Ronald Lu and Partners’ sustainable recommendations, are now paying more for a lucrative future (energy savings, blue chip tenants). Among the Hong Kong Green Building Council’s BEAM Plus certified structure are Swire’s Dunbar Place; Henderson Land’s High West; Hysan Development’s Lee Garden Three; the Housing Authority’s converted Wa Ha Estate; and Hang Lung Properties’ upgraded Standard Chartered Bank Building (read the full list and details at With another Earth Day on the horizon (April 22) and political resistance to science at its highest since the Middle Ages, we survey Hong Kong’s green landscape. 

Green on the Outside

The rush to sustainable construction shouldn’t be regarded as a recent trend; like something that’s a new architectural and design innovation. It’s why the Louvre is still standing. Sustainable design has been standard for Yim throughout his career,
who cites the East Kowloon Culture Centre as a recent success. 

green wall

“Sustainability… has never been something that stands out as extraordinary. It’s part and parcel of a structure. So, it’s a matter of how much state-of-the-art technology we can, or are willing to, employ on a given project,” he says. “But sustainability comes in all guises, passive, active, to the simple fact of orientating a building the right way, optimising use of daylight and ventilation and all that. That’s not particular. That should be there anyway.” To Yim, the government’s current paranoia regarding illegal structures has put a halt to discretionary judgements, essentially killing the kind of creativity developments demand.

Paul Chan’s 2018-19 budget dedicated three of a total of 202 paragraphs to the environment—financial services got 19—that announced HK$800 million for the promotion of renewable energy installations in public facilities, tax breaks for businesses procuring energy efficiency devices, the continued encouragement of public transport and walking in order to improve roadside air quality, and support for electric cars (in case we don’t want to walk). WWF-Hong Kong was, for a change, impressed, pleased that the electric car registration tax exemption was increased and not killed, praising the one-for-one new car swap, and approving of the commitment to making the SAR a green investment hub. And though the financial commitment to renewable energies was welcomed, Prashant Vaze, WWF-Hong Kong’s head of climate change and energy, warned that, “The devil will be in the details, since another support mechanism, a feed-in tariff for renewable electricity, is expected to commence from autumn 2018. It is important that they interact to maximise the deployment of renewable electricity going forward.” In other words, make sure qualifying buildings like schools get the tariff.

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Green on the Inside

Many of Hong Kong’s interior designers aim to include sustainable practices in their work, but just as many will express frustration at their inability to carry out those plans due to policy failure. Kevin Chu, founder and director of Chu Original Creations (, focuses on contemporary environmental design—possibly the only studio like it in Hong Kong. He sees green interiors as having already morphed into more of a symbiosis with nature than a way to minimise impact—and Hong Kong needs to catch up with that green language. “In Hong Kong, it’s not that forward-thinking. Interiors are still very archaic.
It’s not like Singapore or Germany, there’s still a lot of solid materials like marble and gold. We’re behind the rest of Asia.” Chu himself incorporates materials ranging from cork to paper grass turf for wall cladding, upcycled furniture (which, contrary to popular belief, is not cheap), and natural daytime cleansing (see article Let there be light).

green indoors

Chu notes the SAR needs policy changes to really start making a difference, and stop making easy excuses for inaction, like “safety” concerns. “We wanted to install solar power [cells] on our rooftop, but you can’t do that in Hong Kong,” laments Chu of his own home. “Because when you buy a property you don’t really own the property. The implementation of sustainable features is not something they want to do.” More to the point, an economy founded on land sales is unlikely to rock the boat. Chu uses Dutch policy as an example of how a government ensures sustainable development by demanding a green project that serves the community with land bids. Reflecting on the inevitable land sale at the Central Harbourfront, Chu fears we’ll hear the right words, however, only to be let down. “Hong Kong just repeats the trend of appeasing the public and then two years later changing the plans. I hope something good will come of the waterfront, but I think it’s going to be more of the same.” 

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