Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

Green building takes root in HK

Astriking symbol of the Hong Kong building industry's growing commitment to sustainability is due to open in the middle of next year. The Zero Carbon Building, in Sheung Yuet Road, Kowloon Bay, aims to educate the industry, the public and students about the need for low-carbon living and green building technologies.

The three-storey structure, featuring an "eco-home" and the city's first urban woodland, is being built by the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and the Development Bureau.

"CIC has always been committed to promoting sustainable buildings and good industry practices towards environmental protection," says CIC executive director Christopher To. "We believe that the building will provide a platform for knowledge exchange and experience-sharing for the construction industry through showcasing the latest zero-carbon design and technologies, and also educate and inspire the public on low-carbon living."

This green awareness has been recognised at the highest levels. "To fight climate change, the government proposed targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction of 50 to 60 per cent carbon intensity reduction by 2020 compared with the 2005 baseline," says CIC chairman Lee Shing-see.

"Buildings are the major contributor to GHG emissions in Hong Kong. Electricity generation accounts for at least 60 per cent of the total GHG emissions and buildings consume about 90 per cent of the electricity. Thus, the construction industry has a significant role to play in GHG emission reduction," he adds.

The academia is also involved. Since 1995, the department of civil and environmental engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has been working on "green" skills that industry and society need.

"We base our research on science but it is very practical in the sense that it solves real-world practical problems that humanity faces in daily life," says Professor Irene Lo Man-chi. "Our faculty members engage in cutting-edge research and work with the industry. We bring our research into teaching and we link research and ed<90,-30>ucation together."

According to Lo, this practical approach begins at undergraduate level. "For their final year project, students on the bachelor of engineering in civil and environmental engineering programme can choose from various topics, such as water and wastewater, solid waste, soil decontamination, carbon audit, and life cycle assessment for carbon management."

In addition to this programme and its master of science in environmental engineering and management, HKUST launched in 2002 an MPhil/PhD postgraduate research programme in environmental engineering.

And it seems the skills and knowledge students develop at HKUST are proving popular with employers. "Our graduates in environmental engineering are much sought-after," says Lo. 

Christopher To recognises the important role both university education and ongoing training have to play in the success of his industry.

"As the demand for green building design increases, architecture and engineering firm employees will need to equip themselves with necessary environmental skills and knowledge," he says. 

Academic degrees and professional qualifications related to environmental subjects are common means to obtain such knowledge and skills. An example is the Hong Kong Green Building Council-accredited BEAM Professionals (BEAM Pro), who come from different building disciplines, trained and certified by the council in all aspects of the BEAM Plus, covering the entire green building life cycle.

"In addition, the CIC Training Academy also offers lots of training in promoting good practices in the building industry, including environmental related skills," says To.

According to both Lee and Lo, the demand for environmental engineers - in the construction industry and to tackle some broader problems - is set to grow.

"With sustainable buildings being the growing trend, expertise in eco-building design and technologies is becoming more important in modern building development," says Lee. "As such, there is increasing demand for environmental engineering."

"The more a country or a city is developed, the more serious its environmental pollution problem will be," observes Lo. "The pollution will not only be confined to the local level, but also manifest itself on a regional and global scale. It is anticipated that this field will require more talent possessing multidisciplinary knowledge."