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Building a green future

Green engineering and environmental sustainability are redefining how the construction, manufacturing, energy and practically all industries – including the government – operate.

As more eco-friendly concepts are introduced and applied in every project, operation or product, specialists called environmental engineers are finding themselves the target of zealous head hunters.

The green trend is palpable in Hong Kong, where the government has proposed many targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Jill Kennedy, director for Hong Kong of the global property and infrastructure professional services provider Sweett Group, observes: “There is increasing concern in Hong Kong over climate change, for us to do something about it. Particularly, you’ll see Secretary for Development Carrie Lam has been talking about it recently quite a lot in the press. Obviously, with all the new HK-BEAM requirements coming in, there would certainly be an increase in demand for environmental engineers in Hong Kong.”

Even in the UK and Europe, there has been a firm surge in demand for environmental sustainability services, even during the current economic climate.

“Over the last six years, I’ve been involved with environmental engineering and construction. It has been a steady growth – lots of new companies offering services, lots of innovation – I can see that going forward in the next five to 10 years,” says Richard Quartermaine, Sweett Group’s associate director on sustainability. “Also, multinational companies setting more targets in their corporate social responsibility policies applied worldwide, creating more demand for specialist skills.”

AECOM, a global provider of professional technical and management support services, is heavily involved in green engineering. Several clients have contracted the company to add water-sensitive urban design elements to new projects involving collection, cleaning and reuse of stormwater runoff in urban areas. 

“These technologies are established in North America and Australia, and have been considered in Hong Kong housing projects,” says Freeman Cheung, AECOM’s regional managing director for environment.

New government guidelines and regulations are likewise big major boosts to environmental engineering job prospects, he adds. For instance, air ventilation assessment (AVA) and micro-climate analysis during the design stage recently has became a requirement in all new developments in Hong Kong after the “wall effect” – where tightly grouped blocks of high-rise buildings prevent air flow and trap pollutants – attracted much public attention.

“As all new major developments now require an AVA, we have seen a substantial increase in demand for these services,” Cheung says.

Interest is growing in green building design, with buildings required to be certified to BEAM Plus or other standards. “This indicates how environmental features other than energy efficiency are being integrated into engineering services,” says Cheung.

Though career opportunities for environmental engineers continue to rise, this is not necessarily at the expense of other engineering fields.

“This is certainly a growing field as you can see most of the local universities offer environment-related courses to their students. Green engineering is now required for infrastructure development in major cities. We should integrate green elements into every aspect of the engineering disciplines to make the project more sustainable,” says Cheung.

The consultancy sector has one of the biggest demands for environmental engineers. “The roles include a variety of technical and managerial positions assisting in all stages of project cycle from feasibility, planning, design, construction, operation and decommissioning,” says Cheung.

The Sweett Group, meanwhile, sees dispersed requirements in both public and private sectors. “The public sector seems to be the most traditional demand, as local governments set higher standards. There is also a growing demand for property companies and investors to offer sustainable buildings because it is an enhanced product, therefore it can get more rent potentially. Definitely, we see public sector and offices as key growth areas,” says Quartermaine.

While employers require educational and technical qualifications as a matter of course, there are other important credentials that could help environmental engineers land their dream positions. For one, AECOM’s Cheung advises chartered membership in relevant professional bodies or organisations, such as HKIE, HKIEIA and CIWEM.

The Sweett Group finds people from a range of backgrounds who can offer something slightly different. “[We seek] people who have demonstrated some experience and knowledge of latest technologies and performance of those technologies. We like people to be able to give us a critical opinion of certain technologies and how effective they are because, ultimately, we find clients unsure of new types of lighting. To be able to give them the advantages and disadvantages is a key area,” says Quartermaine.

Quartermaine advises would-be environmental engineers to “just try to learn and find out as much as possible about the agenda because it is quite fast-moving”.

“It’s important to have a focus and passion. Those things will impress an employer. Above all, it’s just demonstrating that you’ve found out as much as possible about this topic area,” he adds. “We find that enthusiasm is key. Ultimately, if you can demonstrate your enthusiasm for this area, then you’re more likely to get the client.”