Conn Yuen is founder and director of CO2nnsulting, which helps property firms construct buildings that are more sustainable from an environmental perspective. She also teaches engineering and science courses at the University of Hong Kong.
Tell us about your career
After graduating from the University of Bath, with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1994, I worked at a vacuum cleaner company for a year before reading a master's degree in advanced mechanical engineering at the Imperial College in London. I then did research towards a doctorate in thermal fluids and found a job at the Royal Aeronautical Society's engineering and science data unit.
How did you switch from being a flow engineer into work on sustainability in buildings?
I took a six-month break after spending 18 months at the Royal Aeronautical Society. Eventually, I found myself working for a building consultancy called Battle McCarthy in London. Initially, I didn't know there was a lot of aerodynamics [the study of the motion of air] in buildings, but I went and worked there, and I loved it. I realised the principles governing thermal fluids and buildings are the same * only the scale is different. I got into transferring my knowledge into buildings physics, and I was working with clients like Foster and Partners, and on projects like the Freedom Towers in New York and the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Why did you come to Hong Kong?
After a short while, I left my job and wondered what I was going to do. I had recently made a trip to Hong Kong and thought about coming to work here. I researched about sustainability in Hong Kong and found it was very much in its infancy. I thought maybe I could contribute something. I joined [engineering consultancy] WSP in Britain, and then relocated here in 2005. I left in 2008 to start my own company.
Can you describe what your company does?
We work on sustainable built environments that include buildings and cities. We help projects become green. We help them to use less energy, water, and produce less waste. As it applies to cities, we help planners of a city, village, or community use less energy, rely less on fossil fuel, use less water, and try to reuse waste.
What challenges did you face in setting up your own company?
One was to choose the right people, train and encourage them. What I want is a happy company. I want my employees to feel that they are learning things every day and are welcome to open discussions. Another challenge was that it can be difficult if you are not carrying that corporate identity. When you go into a meeting, people recognise a big company like WSP. It's different when you are a start-up and you have only got a handful of people.
Are new buildings in Hong Kong being built with environmental sustainability in mind?
There is a labelling scheme that includes some elements in water, energy and waste reduction. A lot of new buildings are being built with that in mind, and existing buildings refurbishment, there is also a similar scheme. Compared to five years ago, it has become a lot more mainstream for developers to think about sustainability. Before it was only the top guys like Hong Kong Land, but now it has spread to second and third tier developers. It’s still a long way to go but at least it’s toward the right direction.
What is your advice for young people?
Follow your interest, even if your parents tell you it's stupid and you are going to be poor. Find out what you are interested in, and you will do it well. As an engineer, you have to be interested in how things work. It is OK if you were a kid and you tore apart your toys, but could not put them back together. If you continue to want to find out how things work, engineering is a good match.