Every day we bombarded with images of government leaders and C suite executives swanning around the globe attending events, conferences, summits, Davos, and the like, demonstrating that the idea of trying to lower carbon emissions is just an idea for the great unwashed, they must have a shelf granted exemption right?
Sustainability strategists happily jet setting across the planet to tackle climate change, is not their problem, it is our problem, the masses need to saving the planet.
Look at this great piece on QZ.com (link) tracking helicopter flights into and out of Davos during the world economic forum.
While surveys indicate people want to act or are willing to act more sustainability, the man on the street is busying learning visually.
When the boss leaves the lights on, he is signaling to everyone else, it is perfectly fine to leave the lights on and waste energy, for the masses it is easier to follow the norm rather than try to break the rule. If you ask why, people are unaware, they follow their intuition but given time some rational explanations emerge.
I see it every day, you probably see it too, more and more examples, of government officials and C suite executives chauffeured and helicoptered around Davos at great environmental cost.
We see groups and leaders ignoring sustainability choosing single-use plastic water bottles at “Green” conferences, people will say they want to act sustainably but don’t, they don’t because we can all see the real message and we learn from the C suite world examples.
Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do
The above photo shows a Hong Kong shopping mall on 7 July 2019 with a large plastic bottle recycling vending machine on the right and smaller containers for collection and recycling on the left.
But compare that with Shanghai, China, where a compulsory separation of waste law commenced on 1 July 2019, essentially requiring residents to separate all domestic waste, with fines for non-compliance [SCMP report]. At least initially it’s apparent that this new regulation will be rigidly enforced, and that could be just enough for behavior change and changing habits.
Although it does mean, that once again, Hong Kong finds itself lagging behind.
It is increasingly apparent that administrators across the globe have the same playbook, in the event of a potential crisis, the first step is denial denial denial, event’s in Flint Michigan and closer to home in Hong Kong Public Housing estates exposed us to water contaminated with Lead (Pb) , and both authorities denied it. Private citizens were forced to present laboratory reports to officials, and some still denied the obvious fact.
In Hong Kong, the conservative water authority (WSD) started issuing bulletin after bulletin, but ultimately missing the point I fear. After completion, WSD will never willingly step inside the estate, as they often remind us, their responsibility ends at the site boundary. And inside the boundary, yes the works must comply with the regulations, but its down to the developer. So back to Public Housing, the flat is handed over to the new tenant, with what can only be described as bog-standard fittings, and a visit to the local hardware store is in order, to buy new taps and fittings, and without any import restrictions, every type and model is on display whether certified or not.
With years of experience behind us, have we learnt from the past, not really, the difference is that even your kids know it. Young adults globally have been vocal expressing alarm unhappy with the administrator’s response to climate change. And recent warnings that we have 10-12 years left has not shaken the establishment.
Certainly, some countries are moving forward, but remember the hole in the ozone layer, it needed everyone to be involved, and fully committed, but here are, mid-2019, and there is still no plan. In the United Kingdom authorities are under pressure to recognize the issue and declare a state of emergency, but really that does not help, in a world where China and USA are not on-board. The people, it seems are seriously concerned about sustainability, but not their politicians. Therefore businesses react to the loudest consumers, with often token efforts. the Plastic tonnage in your oceans will not be impacted because a few plastic straws were taken off the counter, look at the scale of plastic pollution and it becomes apparent. Government inaction has also sparked communities to act, with city mayors trying to coordinate their efforts to tackle to climate change, and has that delivered deep carbon emission cuts required? Probably not.
In Hong Kong, the carbon emissions from buildings continue to increase, the latest EMSD data (latest data is 2016) reported building carbon emissions are still increasing, that was caused by us, you and me, using more energy, not the Government. Equally, it’s unsurprising, every year the number of buildings increases, using more energy.
Do nothing and wait is one strategy, waiting for the authorities to finally bite the bullet, create a plan, and implement it might be the ideal, but by then maybe too little too late.
Recycling glass is a no-brainer, it’s not quite reversible, broken glass, known as culet is used for making glass, and paving blocks. HK government is trying to apply a levy to encourage recycling but the detail, as RTHK reports, is still under debate in LEGCO RTHK LINK
Bottles including milk and beer bottles were collected, cleaned, and re-used, 300 ml beer bottles in Europe are designed to be re-used 50 times, not 5 times as the HK government states.
Reuse is the sustainable solution, therefore should be incentivized, a solution in the UK for aggregate – to encourage the use of recycled aggregate is purely financial, the recycled aggregate is cheaper. Financial tools are simple, with a proven track record in Hong Kong, simply tip the balance in favour of recycled materials.
Of course, industry lobbyists scream it will never work! But look at the UK sugar tax, almost overnight products appeared with significantly less sugar.
In Hong Kong the insignifcant and marginal extra charge to pay for plastic shopping bags changed the whole concept and demand within a week when supermarket reported the reduced use of plastic bags for shopping.
An online survey by SCMP tells the whole story, we don’t believe you, we don’t believe those flashy slogans corporations are selling. It’s part of the endless assault, trying to persuade us that corporations, particularly large corporations are great and green.
82% (so far) believe corporate sustainability is just a slogan, that’s a shocking indictment of Hong Kong’s corporates in the sustainability stakes. But why? Perhaps there is a simple answer, the Hong Kong public are not so gullible, they do not believe the hype, or those glossy awards, from the trenches we see the real world every day.
We see and believe, and all the hype, is just hype.
Here is an interesting image, the infrared image of Hong Kong Island promenade, the sum has been shining all day and the path is absorbing the sun’s energy, the walkway is warmer than its surroundings. At night, that stored energy keeps the area warm, warmer than the air temperature, a good example of the urban heat island effect.
Infra-red is accurate and very sensitive, the image even shows the edges of the manhole covers!
It is not too difficult to avoid this problem (remember white reflective roof post) choose a material with a high solar reflectance index (SRI) say 80 or above, that will reduce the energy absorbed.
Another, and some might say, purist video, illustrating the simplicity of the perfect Circular Economy (CE) this one is from EU Environmental department.
The principle is very simple, an old product is the raw materials for the new product, but not necessarily the same product. The steel content from old vehicles has been using this model for decades because steel is expensive, it can be recovered, and processed into new products. Even aircraft, trains are all stripped bare to recover that valuable steel or aluminum to make the next product. Continue reading →
The most sustainable option for our buildings would be to make use of existing building stock, we find (thanks to the Hong Kong audit department) a gift – Hong Kong has schools which have been vacated, some vacated for many years, that have not been returned to Government, idle they serve no purpose, but they are an invaluable resource. the work has been done they have been built, they have infrastructure (water/drainage/power) and often very good links to public transport.
Sustainable Thinking Today
These vacant idle buildings can immediately be opened and put to good use, I can imagine several solutions, that could meet societies needs today:
Small Business Incubator, think PMQ++ there countless classrooms available, offer low rent office/workshops (lower density than classrooms). Common rooms to be used as collaboration space, think tank spaces, like the common areas at Google. If the school has metal workshop, craftsmen can create, or teach. Learning from PMQ businesses that merely sell imported products and add no value, would be excluded.
The Hong Kong Government has created an Innovation fund, but there is little affordable space to innovate, launch appLAB – a building provide low rent space for firms creating software applications (apps), games, etc. a real innovation laboratory for Hong Kong residents. Firms surely face common problems, whether it is business administration, HR, accounting, finance, etc. collaboration areas help and allow sharing ideas and finding solutions to common problems.
Schools are often located far from the CBD, and community space is rare, these building can be used with little alteration for yoga, dance, creating a truly community space for drama, the arts, these are necessary.
If a building has been abandoned for so long that it needs repair use it as training ground ground have CITA trainees, giving them real world experience.
These would be short term plans, no long leases, this does not need to be lifetime commitment, these existing buildings can be used today! and contribute to society and sustainability, over the short term, because Government will need time to figure out how to deal the land over the long term. Of course, Government being government they will immediately say No, I can imagine the countless excuses, but they might, just might, say Yes.
Hong Kong may have a new electric bus, sooner than you think. The new vehicle was spotted around town last week, outside HKPC in Kowloon Tong, and at the Eco Asia Expo 2015 exhibition.
Left to Right: Mr Simon Cheung (China Dynamics), Ms Linda Ho (Green Council CEO) and John A. Herbert
Considering Hong Kong’s small area, this E-Bus must be killer app for Hong Kong’s urban pollution problems. I understand that many argue against EV’s because the rational is that EV’s merely move the pollution problem from our lungs to the distant electricity generating stations, and they claim that is a problem?
Repeated studies have shown the pollution at street level is often intolerable with excess PM2.5 PM10 and NOX. (nitrogen oxides). However, these power generating stations already have pollution control measures in place, and are discharged far from the lungs of busy pedestrians presently dodging the fumes in Central.
Burning diesel at street level should be a crime nowadays! Now we know, the diesel combustion (petroleum diesel not bio diesel) process the combustion is incomplete, and creates tiny microscopic soot particles, they are so small they are easily inhaled, hence the grave concern over particulates in the PM2.5-10 range. Hong Kong’s EPD in fact publish the monitoring data: http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/air/data/air_data.html
Screenshot – EPD Pollution Monitoring Data
And the source of those PM2.5 and PM10 particulates? the overwhelming majority are created by diesel engine discharged at lung (street) level. Furthermore, I understand that the E-Bus creators (designed in Hong Kong!) have useful applications in mind for the ‘used’ batteries, to avoid creating another waste problem dealing with spent batteries. I had a tour, inside it looks like every other Hong Kong bus, in fact you would find it hard to distinguish between the diesel version, except for the tailpipe.
Another sustainability perspective to consider, beside being conceived and designed in Hong Kong, it is manufactured close to home, avoiding the related emissions caused from importing buses from Europe which I understand is the usual practice.
Let us hope it is on the road, here in Hong Kong, sooner rather than later. One of Hong Kong’s key selling points must be the fantastic low cost, public transport system, but can it be improved? Of course, there is always room for improvement, as Paul Zimmerman points out, there are water taxi’s and ferries that would improve connectivity across the harbour, however the Hong Kong public transport system is one that many cities envy.
We are all hindered by unintended consequences, Sweden one might argue a global leader for harvesting leftover heat was hamstrung by the law which prevented other suppliers accessing the district heating grid, but that changed when a law was passed last year that allows outside suppliers to deliver heat through the district heating grid. Now the town of Kiruna in northern Sweden can use waste heat from their local industry to cheaply heat homes, a neat solution when the mercury hits -30 Deg C in winter. Details are scarce in the Guardian article  however using waste heat whether from industry or power generation is cost-effective when the distance (where increasing distance equates causing increasing heat loss) between the source and end-user is not great.
Less commonly known is that waste heat can be used in the tropics to drive air conditioning, necessary in large parts of Asia. Low grade heat energy is often dumped into rivers or the sea, instead it can be used to change the concentration of liquid salt, e.g. lithium bromide, creating cold water for comfort cooling.
The administration of New York City, USA has provided environmental leadership banning single use Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) also known as Styrofoam, including loose fill ‘peanuts’ used for packing, beginning on 1 July 2015, but a concession, a six month grace period, will be granted so the law and fines will be effective from 1 January 2016.
It was beautiful weather today, it was hot, so hot in fact that the Hong Kong Observatory promulgated the Very Hot Weather warning, a glorious day indeed for drying your laundry in the sunshine, alas not in Hong Kong. Building and estate managers, for reasons unknown, actively prohibit carbon free laundry drying, stainless prohibition signs litter the site, proclaiming no drying. Perhaps they deem it to be ugly? but enterprising hongkongers hang their duvets, sheets, and bedding just outside the estate officers influence and control. This walkway (photo below) is a good example, just beyond the estate boundary, it doubles as a carbon free clothes drying area, beating the often lousy provisions provided at home and without burning fossil fuel. Is it time for a change of policy?
It is said, you’ll never find an architect visiting their finished project, but sustainable living, demands more time and energy devoted for more thoughtful design not less. Carbon free clothes drying isnt going to spark the revolution, but its a small step in the right direction.
Handling food waste is a global problem, but is all food waste equal? There is waste from dining generated in homes, restaurants, and Dai Pai Dong’s, and there is food waste from markets, wet markets, and supermarkets, the latter being merely past its sell by date. HKSAR Government intends to create four food waste to energy plants, but no mention of their location and tragically RTHK’s report confirms our fears, about 3,000 tonnes are dumped into landfill every day! That is 1,095,000 tonnes per year.
However, collection, handling, shipping it across the territory, and bulk storage in central facilities is the worst possible solution in my view. To tackle local problems we need local education and local solutions, shipping it “way” will only perpetuate the most common reaction NIBMY.
Eco-District or community scale solutions demonstrate locally there is no distant landfill to handle the waste, you use it, you see it, you handle the waste. Therefore encouraging participation in the solutions, today’s over emphasis towards Green/Smart cities overlooks an important aspect, the human scale. The biggest challenge for eco-districts will be success, where the WTE (waste to energy) plant and equipment is designed for the worst case scenario, and the neighbours begin to understand that their waste creates a local waste problem, over time the total volume of waste will shrink, leaving oversized equipment in its wake. We need District, not City scale solutions.
We know there are insufficient resources to go around, right? Perhaps not. However, there are options, the idea of one planet living (http://www.oneplanetliving.com) gives guidance, like David Letterman’s feature, it provides a convenient top ten list, but how can we migrate from the status quo to a more sustainable future?
Green Building or clean technologies? What is the solution? Well in reality it is not that easy, I have seen Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) intended to provide fan speed control and save energy, locked at one speed, I have seen the building’s central chiller plant operated when one room demands cooling, I have seen room temperature sensors located above lighting fittings (lights are heaters) therefore the air conditioning system continuously calls for more cooling. etc.
So if I have learned one thing, it’s not the latest new idea or the wizbang technology itself that matters, what really matters is how we use the equipment and operate the facilities.
But before we all become operator angels, we will need to optimise and improve design, and not just buildings, but their context, we need more design not less, and we have to be prepared to pay for it. The challenges we face require scaled solutions, beyond a single building, and communities provide sufficient scale to enable working solutions (see also Every Community a Powerhouse).
And these solutions should be local. In my diagram above, waste can be managed AND reused. For example, water a separate stack would collect greywater for reuse primarily within the community, for example irrigation or process water for local industry.
Its more important than ever before that Eco-districts cover all aspects of our daily life including work! In the USA vast cities developed where work and home are very separate, with little public transportation, the urban sprawl created the un-walkable distance, increasing the demand for a private car, and in reality more than one car.
Creating distal residential areas in remote isolation is a recipe for disaster, we need closer communities, communities where certain resources can be shared or call them eco-districts, which are places we can work, play, and live.
We must optimise the use of resources, rainwater can be captured from several buildings are used communally for industrial use, irrigation, or your local energy generation. We have become accustomed to throwing things away, out of sight – out of mind, but there is no away, a far better solution is to handle all waste locally, and yes we should encourage more recycling, but we must be practical, and the local reminder (that there is no away) should be visible in your backyard, and it should be used locally whether for power generation, compost, or biogas (fuel for cooking) when possible locally.
We invest in expensive and energy-hungry air conditioning systems for offices that are typically used 9-7, then we repeat the investment and resource use, providing air conditioning for homes, with a little planning forethought, and load profile analysis, one AC system could serve both the office (during the day) and our homes (outside office hours), this natural synergy would save considerable cost and resource use.
The technology exists, but that is the easy part, we need solutions at scale, we need Government, stakeholders, communities to embrace change, and start managing and operating the entire planet.
Here is a TED talk, it is an interesting primer for environment and sustainability issues (and I doubt the speaker Leyla Acaroglu will thank me for that). But I do wonder is sustainability finally heading towards the main stream?
There is no doubt that the analysis is incredibly complex, and the possibly the most significant factor, us, the end users, cant be easily modelled, or predicted, Just consider the factors for the paper vs plastic, how to account for the damage cause to ecosystems from the tonnes of plastic waste waste floating in the oceans, out of sight – out of mind. Look at http://projectkaisei.org which illustrates the vast cities of plastic that was dumped on to the ecosystem.
The Electric kettle is interesting too, since families here often boil the potable water before using it for drinking water, and that stems from water rationing in 70’s and 80’s coupled with the corroded steel pipes used for distribution prior to 1994, and the complete absence of maintenance for the central water storage tank, it is no wonder your parents had the boil the water. Assuming we 3,000,000 households boiling a standard 1.7 litre kettle, that’s 5,100,000 litres of water boiled (at least once) per day, the energy consumption alone is an huge environmental burden.
But don’t be fooled into thinking I am reminiscing about the past, my office is located in a pre- 1994 building, the water pipes have corroded, and water is usually brown in colour.
The ubiquitous green coloured rubbish bins in Hong Kong, some are sporting a new label, written in a child’s hand, the message is simple, are you going to ignore it? HELP ! Our world will be come full of trash … Continue reading →