GBA: Dirty deeds done dirt cheap out of style in Greater Bay Area

A long-time advocate of sustainability, Thomas Tang shared with Harbour Times what regional cooperation means to sustainability and how businesses in the Greater Bay Area can do their part right in protecting the environment.


Tang tends to look at the big picture, from environmental protection to social innovation. This time, he has his eye set on the policy direction of the Greater Bay Area that links 11 different cities together to create an economic powerhouse.

The in-between place

“There are policies in place. Some are made at the city level to suit the city’s own needs. Some are national policies at a higher strategic level formulated by the central government, such as ecological civilization and climate change and so forth – all aim to address how to advance China into the 20th century and beyond,” says Tang. “And the Greater Bay Area is caught between the two levels.”

While each city may have its own practice and policies, regional cooperation – a key focus of the Greater Bay Area initiative – has also been happening when it comes to environmental protection, Tang said.

“There’s a lot of government-to-government (G2G) cooperation across the Greater Bay Area. Some standards are universally accepted across the area, like emissions from power plants,” says Tang.

This kind of cooperation is much needed. For example, the fate of the 11 cities is linked by the Pearl River that runs across the delta. If there is no control over water quality, all cities suffer, warns Tang.

“We see a lot of G2G dialogue in terms of air, water and waste. How well the communication works is determined by different governments and sometimes the culture. But in general, it is recognized that G2G efforts are the biggest push to control and manage sustainability development,” explains Tang.

While Tang stressed the importance of G2G efforts to promote sustainability, he also said businesses that wish to venture into the Greater Bay Area, or even China, now need to be sensitive and careful when it comes to environmental protection.

“Back in the 90s, a lot of industries were set up in the Greater Bay Area and pollution was at serious levels, with factories relying on power burning dirty fuels such as coal and diesels. Regulations back then were not strongly enforced,” says Tang.

But those days are gone.

As the Chinese government encourages industries to move further inland, industries that remain in the Greater Bay Area are light manufacturing and local authorities are more willing to clean up.

Clean up your act!

“Businesses need to have responsible behaviour. Now the regulations are much tighter. As the new government is actively cracking down on corruption and among other things, regulations are strongly in place,” said Tang. “Back in the 90s, enforcement was lenient. Now it is a different story.”

“All sorts of companies – mainland, Hong Kong or multinational – are under the watchful eye of the Chinese government. They need to make sure they do their job properly.”

To show that they engage in sustainability development, companies now tend to produce an environmental, social and governance (ESG) report on their environmentally-friendly efforts. Tang said ESG reporting has become mainstream.

“Transparency is important. But companies should not do it just for the sake of reporting,” said Tang. “It should be something that is built into the work culture – knowing that you are, and should be, behaving responsibly. When you set up the factory, you are aware of the impacts and opportunities you create to the community and the environment.”

“The old fashioned idea that you can go cheap in China and break the law is gone. While the increasing costs may seem discouraging in short term, companies that have been around for 20 or even more years are those that put sustainability into consideration,” said Tang.

He said Hong Kong could be the leader in the Greater Bay Area to demonstrate how an urban city can commit to keeping the environment clean.

“I have worked in different cities and have seen great examples and great mistakes,” said Tang. “Hong Kong is somewhere in between, and it can do more. It can show what works in Hong Kong can also work anywhere else.”

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Business Environment Council (BEC) is holding BEC EnviroSeries Conference on 23 May 2018, at which speakers will discuss and explore the opportunities for Hong Kong businesses to be benefited from the Greater Bay initiative.

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