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Ir Conrad Wong Tin-cheung: Pioneer in green building
  • “Green building is not a cost, it is an investment.”
  • “Green building is not a cost, it is an investment.”

“Green building is not a cost, it is an investment.”

Dec 2014

Despite uncertainties and difficulties, with insights and perseverance, hard work will pay off eventually. Ir Conrad Wong Tin-cheung, BBS, JP, Vice-Chairman of Yau Lee Holdings, one of the biggest construction companies in Hong Kong, is a living testimony to the statement. Before green buildings became a worldwide trend, Yau Lee started developing green technologies and designing environmentally friendly buildings as early as in 1980s. Today, Yau Lee, under the leadership of Ir Wong, has proven that not only can green buildings fulfill social responsibility, they can also generate monetary returns, leading to a win-win situation.

Ir Wong’s decision to engage in green construction was partly influenced by his eldest daughter. “More than fifteen years ago, my eldest daughter was still studying at kindergarten. One day, when I went home after work, she held me tightly and couldn’t stop crying,” Ir Wong recounted. “My daughter said, ‘Teacher was telling us how the tropical rainforests are damaged and people are killing trees to make space for more buildings!’ She already knew that I was working in the construction industry and thought that I am the murderer of tropical rainforests!”

Ir Wong’s daughter did not know that her father had already engaged in green construction, and the first step was replacing wood by other building materials, such as metals and prefabricated components. “I constantly update my daughter on the use of wood at construction sites,” Ir Wong said. The percentage of wood used in Yau Lee constructions now hovers around five percent.

However, material is merely one of the requirements in green building assessment and certification systems, such as BEAM Plus of Hong Kong, LEED of the United States, and BCA Green Mark of Singapore, which have all emerged since the late 90s. Apart from materials, green building assessment and certification systems across the globe focus on five other factors, including the building’s appearance, electricity usage, water usage, indoor environment and innovation. But different places have different concerns, for example in the United States, cycling is encouraged as a means of commuting, so buildings with more parking spaces for bikes earn more points on the LEED system.

“A good design can fulfil the requirements of any green building certification system,” Ir Wong said. One of Yau Lee’s outstanding project, the Holiday Inn Express Hong Kong SoHo Hotel in Sheung Wan, has proven the point, as it has achieved the highest ratings in four green building certification systems, including that of Hong Kong, China, Singapore and the United States, making it one of the most environmentally friendly hotels in the world. “Most importantly, we can show our peers in the construction industry that through a good construction design, we can lower the electricity usage by almost 60 percent,” Ir Wong said. “The design helps us save around two to three million dollars per year, but such electricity intelligence system only cost about ten million dollars… Green building is not a cost, it is an investment.”

Apart from hotels, Yau Lee has also constructed green buildings for an array of uses, such as public housing estates and hospitals. Architects and engineers have to take the concerns of different stakeholders into account and be flexible with their designs. “Water is a more efficient cooling agent than air for refrigeration systems. But we do not use water cooling systems in hospitals because they are concerned about the possible spread of legionnaire’s disease,” Ir Wong explained.

Green buildings will play an important role in mitigating human activities’ adverse impact on the environment. “I always tell young people that if you are truly interested in environmental protection, you should study architecture and engineering,” Ir Wong said. Buildings account for about 40 percent of the global carbon dioxide emission and 90 percent of Hong Kong’s electricity usage. One of the most effective ways to lower Hong Kong’s carbon dioxide emission is to make buildings more energy-efficient.

From green roof contractors to LED lights manufacturers, different industries have kick-started in Hong Kong, readying the city to incorporate more green elements in constructions. The Hong Kong Green Building Council, which is chaired by Ir Wong, is working to improve the local BEAM Plus assessment scheme. “I hope in two to three years’ time, Hong Kong’s BEAM Plus will become the world’s most advance green building assessment system,” Ir Wong said. After years of research, the Council also launched a “green labelling system” in November, which rates 15 types of materials by their environmental performance, including material toxicity and carbon dioxide emission, and divides the materials into five categories, providing developers, contractors and citizens with more information.

Hong Kong has the potential to export its green building technologies to the rest of the world, Ir Wong believes. “Another mega trend is urbanisation, meaning that more people are moving from villages to cities. On average, one million people relocate to cities in the world every day. Therefore, more and more people will enjoy the Hong Kong way of life,” Ir Wong said. “Many Hong Kongers have lots of good ideas. We hope that we can nurture a batch of successful professionals in green construction in eight to ten years.”

For Ir Wong, the ultimate goal of his career in green construction is to build a “five-zeros” building, which does not use wood, external energy and water; and emit pollutants and carbon dioxide. “I am 50 years old now. Assuming I will retire by age 65, I still have 15 years,” said Ir Wong. “I hope that I can accomplish this goal within my lifetime, but even if I cannot, I won’t be disappointed because I am paving the way for the future.”

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