Hong Kong – changing attitudes in the “city of consumption”

Posted 25 April 2014
Hong Kong is one of the Asia’s most affluent cities, with almost limitless access to natural resources. However, Hong Kong is also one of the top cities in Asia in terms of its per capita Ecological Footprint – a measure of how many natural resources we use in our daily lives. If everyone in the world utilized resources at the same rate as Hong Kong, humanity would need 2.6 planets to sustain our needs.

This year, during Earth Hour – the world's largest collective environmental action – WWF-Hong Kong urged people to begin changing their lifestyles by asking the question “what will you give up today for a better tomorrow?” We asked this question to prompt a city-wide rethink on how people can live more sustainably by “consuming less and consuming wisely”.

Hong Kong’s sixth Earth Hour took place on 29 March, 2014, with the entire city providing overwhelming support to the event. Countless landmarks across the city, including International Finance Centre and the Central Government Complex, turned off their non-essential lights for an hour. “The Symphony of Lights” harbourfront lightshow was suspended. Approximately 2.8 of our 7 million of local resident and over 3,900 companies and buildings turned off lights in houses, offices, neon signs and light boxes, and engaged their employees and customers to do the same. At the same time, 320 primary and secondary schools pledged support for Earth Hour. WWF’s School Ambassador Programme helped multiply the message by arming young people with knowledge about the Ecological Footprint and sustainability and build them up as ambassadors.

This concerted effort meant that, in just one hour the Hong Kong community collectively avoided approximately 153 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. It would take 6,661 trees to absorb this amount of carbon over one year.

The number of participants of the event is encouraging; however, the major challenge is how to extend the spirit of Earth Hour – live in a sustainable way – beyond the one hour “lights out” event and to create a long term effect in people’s living style. An ambitious campaign “One Earth Mission” targeted four areas where Hong Kong consumption is particularly conspicuous, namely “clothing”, “food”, “housing” and “transportation”. The four-week campaign began with the “Ocean Smart” mission, aiming to stop the consumption of unsustainable seafood and reduce food waste across Hong Kong. The second mission was “Fashion Week”, during which people were encouraged to examine their wardrobes to see if they were buying too many clothes and make better use of the ones they already owned.

The consumption of paper and electricity was the focus of the third week’s mission, reminding people to be aware of how they consume natural resources. People were urged to reduce their use of energy and choose paper products certified by the FSC. In the final week, the mission focused on travelling – people were encouraged to spend some time in nature and discover the natural beauty of Hong Kong’s Country Parks, which cover 40 per cent of the city’s land area, instead of doing unnecessary consumption in this world famous shopping paradise.

Students who participated in the One Earth Mission made positive comments about the campaign’s impact:

“I understand the importance of protecting our natural environment and reducing carbon dioxide emission through the campaign.”

“My daily habits have been changed. I think more carefully when I shop and make sure I only buy what I really need. I learned a lot from the programme.”

Beyond Earth Hour, significant changes in government policy have recently occurred which echo WWF’s call for a city-wide lifestyle shift towards sustainability. The Hong Kong government announced an internal dining policy which bans consuming shark fin and bluefin tuna at any official occasions. This change will have a significant cascade effect in Hong Kong, one of the key trade and consumption cities for seafood and shark fin in Asia. This government move comes on the back of similar policy shifts by an array of public organizations and large corporations which avoid shark fin and unsustainable seafood in their organizational dining.

Positive changes are happening in Hong Kong, but the city’s demand for natural resources still exceeds the sustainable level. With competition for natural resources increasing and resources themselves becoming more scarce globally, Hong Kong must proactively move towards becoming a more sustainable city. The time has come for everyone in Hong Kong – the government, the business sector and individuals to rethink our positions and react to the challenges ahead.