Business sector calls for sustainable consumption

The Business Environmental Council has launched its sustainable consumption programme and introduced a certification scheme, in effort to jump on the global ‘green’ bandwagon.

Photo: From left to right: Wong Hon Ming, Assistant Director (Recycling Support) of
Environmental Protection Department; Adam Koo, CEO of BEC; Susan Siu,
Head of Procurement of Gammon Construction Limited (Credit: BEC)


On 28 July, the Business Environmental Council (BEC) hosted a Mini-Expo at the BEC auditorium and launched the “Fostering Sustainable Consumption for Hong Kong Business and the Community” programme. The initiative, funded by the Environment Bureau’s Sustainable Development Fund, aims to promote sustainable consumption and procurement within various industries by providing incentives, a guide on sustainable consumption, a recognition scheme, an online product directory, a mobile application and a series of roving exhibitions. Representatives from numerous industries gathered to support the initiative and shared knowledge about the shifting economy.

Traditional procurement approaches, usually regarded as ‘cost-efficient’ and convenient, tend to remain the popular practice despite a global bandwagon to go green. However, with the business sector’s lead, a market for green and sustainable products can be created, eventually pushing down prices to competitive levels. William Lin, Director of Environmental Management at BEC, explained: “The reason why we initiated this programme, is to get everyone to work together. If a small portion of stakeholders do it, it’s not enough. Especially when we are talking about procurement, if I as a buyer wants to buy something, there is nothing in the market. Another way round, as a supplier, no one is interested in this product, why would ‘I’ waste my time to develop this nice product to the market. This is one of the aims of the BEC, we provide a platform where the business sector sits together and does something that is meaningful to society.”

Wong Hon-ming, Assistant Director of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), addressed the department’s initiatives in having plans to expand the extent of sustainable procurement guidelines for internal use among government departments. The guidelines encompassed 27 items when it was first introduced in 2000, and were gradually expanded to 150 items since 2013, with plans to further expand the coverage to include services. Wong also noted that the government’s green purchases have reached a yearly average of HK$1 billion between 2013 and 2017. By leading as an example, the industry may feel more confident when developing the new market.

The private sector, for its part, is also leading this movement towards a sustainable economy. Gammon has been rolling out its plans on converting the use of conventional fuel to a more sustainable B5 biodiesel fuel. According to Gammon’s Sustainability Report 2016, plant and equipment use in their non-joint venture projects solely use B5 biodiesel, while 17% of concrete-mixer trucks have switched to the sustainable fuel in 2016. Susan Siu, Head of Procurement at Gammon Construction Limited, addressed some of the initial concerns for the company.

“Cost is always important as we are a commercial organisation, on top of many other criteria for us, like quality, safety, etc. So, when we are considering sustainable procurement, while we do want to do buy more [sustainable products], we also need to find ways to save money,” Siu said. “For example, we still don’t know whether B5 biodiesel will be saving consumption, so we start with ‘consume less’ fuel. Then, we look at how can we work with the suppliers to make sure the price is still competitive for us. Since [Gammon] is the first company that is doing this, the supplier is offering us the same price, whereas they actually have additional costs as they need to procure the B100 from the recycler.”

“With an organisation like Gammon, they will have different schemes like BIM (Building Information Modeling) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), then developers will start to say: ‘I want the certification. I want you (Gammon) with the experience to help me get more sustainable materials in the project, so it is easier for me (developers) to get the gold or platinum label.’ So, I think there is an interactive effect,” described Siu. “The other way is that we use life-cycle evaluation. If you look at the cost of a product, we won’t just look at the initial price, it may mislead you. If it turns bad easier, you may have to buy more. So, better and durable means we don’t have to dump so much. For construction, there are dumping fees charged towards us. So, based on the principle of ‘use less, waste less’, we look at the life-cycle cost of the product.”

An example given by Siu is the new HDPE traffic barriers Gammon introduced to all of their sites since 2015 after working with their suppliers. Despite slightly higher initial costs, the lighter, more durable and recyclable barriers are 30-40% cheaper when taking life cycle costs into account.

Gammon Construction is also at the forefront of technological and sustainable initiatives within the construction industry, paving a more sustainable direction for the industry. Siu added: “A lot of our current equipment or construction methods are very traditional. We have to work with manufacturers on site or universities and try to see whether we could co-develop a product that will help the whole construction industry. We look at automated robotic devices and equipment to help improve productivity along with safety and housekeeping onsite. We think it is sustainable because there is an ageing workforce in Hong Kong and the younger generation of the workforce would like something different. They may be more interested in the use of computerised or digitalised technology, rather than traditional methods.” Currently, Gammon’s B5 biodiesel and sustainable timber use initiatives, along with technological innovations, are setting an example for the industry and are proactively creating a market for sustainable products.

One of the BEC’s programme activities, the recognition scheme, is currently comprised of 52 enterprises and 25 suppliers certified as “Sustainable Consumption Enterprises” and “Sustainable Product Suppliers”. This creates a source of sustainable consumption information for different parties. The upcoming mobile app, “Guide on Sustainable Consumption Products and Services”, will serve as a search engine for products and retailers related to environmental protection, conservation, organics, social enterprises and more. Six roving exhibitions will begin this September, further educating and promoting concepts of sustainable consumption to the public.

The BEC will also introduce an award scheme for sustainable buyers and suppliers. The scheme will be commenced in the third quarter of 2018, with finalised details scheduled for announcement by the first quarter of the same year. The award scheme is an efficient method of aligning incentives towards forming a sustainable market. On this front, the BEC is aiming to drive business awareness and behavioural changes regarding sustainable consumption, with a goal of shifting the economy.  

“The business sector has played a significant role in promoting sustainable consumption. Many large corporations have implemented strategies and policies on sustainable procurement, yet sustainable consumption is still a challenging goal for SMEs and the general public, as the market lacks the information, knowledge and tools for its development. Seeing the necessities, BEC has launched this programme to establish a one-stop resources centre in facilitating and encouraging enterprises and the public to support sustainable consumption,” stated Adam Koo, CEO of BEC.

James Johnston

James is a Harbour Times intern. He studies at the University of British Columbia majoring in Economics.

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