Clean Air

November 29, 2006

I was at the Clean Air conference this Monday. It was filled with all major business leaders and without doubt our CE made a very good speech. The controversial part of it of course is about life expectancy of male and female in Hong Kong. I don’t believe he should be so defensive, by quoting facts about life expectancy, at such an event where we expect the government to be visionary in a long battle for a better environment for the future generations.

I like David Eldon’s speech. He made few points which were, incidentally, similar to my comments made in 9 October! I made specific disclaimer to the Chamber that comments were mine personally therefore I guess I am not risking my job to post them here.

In particular I was glad to hear that

  • It is a long battle as there are some 300,000 companies in Hong Kong and 82,000 companies in pearl river delta which are owned by Hong Kong enterprises….i.e. the long tail.
  • HKEx should consider making mandatory for listed companies to publish EHS (environmental, Health and Safety) report…..”goal and measure”
  • A section added in the business guidebook about IAQ affected by printer and copier etc….and not quite promoting [tag]paperless[/tag] office instead mentioned ‘think twice before you copy or print’

My original comments were:

My concept of any successful initiatives is “role modeling”, i.e. there got to be a role model for the rest to follow. If the initiators don’t have faith in what they are promoting that project is doomed to fail.

Some 200 hundred companies have signed the charter. The wording used is “statement of commitment”. If they have committed, what have they delivered? It’ll be good that in the website one could see what they have delivered. Odd examples from xxx or yyy aren’t enough.

The guideline IS INDEED a bit complex. On the contrary to other comments I think ERM has done a great job. The CLEAN AIR Project itself isn’t simple and there is no simple solution. The guidebook is a pdf download, I would prefer it to be webpages for environmental reasons. It’s normal that one will download it and save it for printing in that format. Hundreds of companies will then print it out which is likely to be a complete paper waste. If it is purely webpages then it’s far more convenient for visitors to navigate between pages and jump to external resources (web links) provided to them. If users really want hardcopy you could provide printer friendly version for each page (not the whole document) then users will have to “stop and think” before printing, i.e. add more clicks to discourage printing. You could also allow user to post enquiry via the site requesting hardcopy to be sent (if HKGCC intends to print booklet).

I don’t want to sound discouraging but I would not be surprised that a substantial portion of those companies that signed the charter have not made much progress in delivering their “commitments”. It is important that these companies are demonstrating to the public and potential “new followers” that they are not doing “lip-service” by signing up, i.e. no costs free rider advertisement. Imagine that HKGCC has a thousand more companies that signed the Charter every year and the sky is still grey most of the time?!!

As the project has set the “goal” there must be “measures”. Have HKGCC thought about “measures” on those companies who signed the charter? I would have thought that for large companies a link to their own website showing their progress of implementation is needed. I know large enterprises such as Swire or CLP and the like would publish their EHS or Sustainability report etc for a matter of course. Again they are the role models. Good guys doing good jobs deserve bigger logo and credits at the “Project Clean Air” website.

Going back to the website it is said at the outset “…over the years…API has led to growing public concern, threatening not only health….”. I would suggest some visual impacts by graphs (increasing API or number of blue sky days etc) or figures (health cases due to respiratory illness etc) to draw attention.

Again on the website I suggest there are online calculator such that users can do quick calculations on “total costs of ownership” or payback of some typical “investment” for clean air or power conservation. I read an article recently that many estate/mall management companies are constrained by yearly budget. An online calculator like this would make it easy for them to show to their senior management that they could be doing good thing for the community by over spending for one year but gaining on smaller electricity bill over a longer period.

Furthermore the website should provide easy access (such as account and password) for responsible environmental managers of HKGCC members who signed the charter for posting of recent progress/achievements (to be moderated by editorial of HKGCC before publishing of course). This again is a way of maintaining the positive image of these companies and set good examples to new followers. At a later stage HKGCC could also consider building online forum such that “new followers” can interact with environmental managers of large companies who may volunteer their time “coaching”.

In particular on page 20 about “upgrading …to T5 tube with electronic ballast”. E.g. a friend of mind (head of facilities management of KMB), told me sometime ago that they have replaced all the fluorescent tubes of their fleet (not sure if it’s T5?), this sort of example could be very good for an online calculator showing “new followers” how much energy (hence diesel of the running buses) and pollutant can be saved by investment like that. Companies such as KMB could contribute to the building of this online calculator by showing HKGCC a “real-life example”. Imagine that these 200 companies all contributing examples in building the online calculator you’ll have few hundred examples!!!

A little bit about IAQ for offices. I’m a great promoter of “use less paper”. The government hasn’t done anything meaningful about this. There is nothing new required from technology as some may argued about heavy investment on IT. It’s the mindset that has to be changed and government/big enterprises should be taking the lead/setting the example. Excess use of paper leads to “solid waste” to landfill. Unnecessary copying leads to health hazard (due to ozone and other chemicals/VOC etc) see this from Labour Department. Pulp and paper industries during production of paper consumes lots of energy and generates difficult to treat solid and liquid wastes. Last but not least we still have to kill trees, which help cleaning contaminated air, to produce paper!! In the business world today in Hong Kong nobody can get away from using a lot of papers because there is no much initiatives by the Government/large enterprises in promoting “paperless trading”. May be ERM could think about adding a section just for this.

In my mind, though I don’t have scientific proofs, a Project like this fits “the long tail” theory. Most people would tend to believe that “let’s get large companies doing the right thing then we’ll be OK….”. In a way YES because large enterprises can afford the initial investments in doing the right things and they could be very good role models for new followers. However it could be the “long tail” that is really hurting the environment most. It is of course disgraceful if the large enterprises are simply doing “lip-service” and have not really committed to the charter they signed.

If the above is too heavy, you have my standard disclaimer “…the above is my personal opinion and doesn’t represent necessarily the opinion of my employer ….etc”.

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