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HongKongEcho: Five reflections on an NGO’s battle for a greener Hong Kong

Environmental NGOs like Friends of the Earth (HK) have a real battle on their hands. CEO Simon Mak is out to make sure their work won’t go to waste.

On activism…

We work across three main areas: policy advocacy towards the government, business engagement, and community engagement. All three have to move forward equally – you can’t introduce sustainable policies without the backing of the community and business, for example. Our challenge is to push these three actors in the same direction at the same pace.

Simon Mak, CEO of Friends of the Earth (HK)

On government vision…

We have very frequent dialogue with the government and we know each other well. Sometimes they will call us up to ask for support on a specific policy – other times it’s a case of us pushing them for change.

The problem is there is no joint-up thinking in the government to consider sustainability for the city as a whole. Each department looks at it under their specific lens, so ultimately there is limited ability to liaise across departments. Beyond that, passing legislation is typically a very drawn out process. Any proposals have to get through the District Council and then the Legislative Council – which is quite fragmented itself – before anything can be achieved.

On grassroots initiatives…

Last year we organised around 200 talks at local schools to educate young children on recycling. One way we approach the issue is to get students to weigh the garbage their family produces every day, which makes them realise that it’s often a few times more than their own body weight. Learning about waste shouldn’t be just looking at numbers on paper.

Of course we have many other programmes in the community from energy saving competitions to tree planting projects.

On mega infrastructure…

The government must conduct an environmental impact assessment for any major infrastructure project. The reality is only one project (an MTR line through New Territories wetlands) has ever failed the assessment – so that tells you something.

A project like the Lantau Tomorrow Vision, involving 1,700 hectares of offshore land reclamation, is a major concern both environmentally and economically.

Our position is that there is already enough land in the New Territories brownfield areas to supply the city’s housing needs. However, this land is essentially protected by Heung Yee Kuk – an extremely powerful body of New Territories legislators who form part of the election committee which selects the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. So far, successive Chief Executives have thus adapted an appeasement policy on that front.

On mindsets…

Take plastic straws for example. Many businesses want to remove them because there is a cost involved – the problem is that the consumer demands them. That’s where we have to do a better job educating the public.

I think people in Hong Kong are generally supportive of protecting the environment. But when you start making things less convenient or taking money out of people’s pockets, it’s another story.

Useful links

Wise City HongKongEcho: Hong Kong’s iconic skyline may also be its greatest environmental threat HongKongEcho: Is M+ the global museum Hong Kong needs? HongKongEcho: Tourism Board plays the culture card for Hong Kong