Let's Make A Start Toward Cleaner Society

By Professor Kira Matus, Associate Head of Division of Public Policy, HKUST


The recent Extinction Rebellion movement in the UK protested against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and the risk of social and ecological collapse.

Protesters called for policies that can achieve a net zero carbon footprint by 2025, one of the 17 sustainable development goals agreed by world leaders at the United Nations in 2015.

Meeting these goals requires more than addressing climate change.

Sustainable development is a balance between the needs of the environment, society and economy in order to maintain a quality standard of life for both present and future generations.

Many countries, including the UK, have implemented goal-specific measures in a bid to achieve the 17 goals, with voluntary national reviews to see if the measures are effective.

According to the Sustainable Cities Index compiled by global design, engineering and management consulting firm Arcadis, Hong Kong ranked ninth worldwide in 2018, down from eighth in 2015, and five places behind Singapore.

We need to think about the specific hurdles to becoming a more sustainable city. Creating such a society demands thinking and planning on longer, generational scales of decades (or more).

This is a major challenge for our businesses that focus on maximizing short-term profits. We can't build a sustainable economy if we're only planning and conceptualizing on a quarterly or annual basis.

There is growing recognition that investments in climate adaptation and mitigation will be unavoidable - but, if done well, they may bring many benefits.

The second challenge comes from how sustainability is conceived of here.

Many here assume anything to do with environmentally-friendly practices comes with a cost and will hurt profits.

But they fail to see that by incorporating sustainable measures into their businesses, there's an opportunity for innovation, in turn helping to improve efficiency and save costs.

There is a huge opportunity in developing new models and business practices that could provide important strategic advantage now and in the long term.

My previous co-authored research has pointed out that achieving sustainable consumption and production in urban settings requires profound systemic changes and transitions.

It is important to involve non-traditional stakeholders that are generally not included in urban planning processes, such as consumer organizations, retailers and supermarkets to advocate for more sustainable consumption behavior.

A change of norms, rules (both formal and informal), laws, policies and governance systems should go hand in hand to make this work.

I'm optimistic that Hong Kong can make strides in transforming its economy into a sustainable one.

There is tremendous energy at the ground level to support innovative, sustainable businesses and community projects.

We can start undertaking small-scale initiatives that experiment with social organization and sustainable lifestyles.

The city's economy is focused on finance, logistics and retail services.

Hong Kong can transition into a cleaner society through relatively less costly, more adaptable changes in business practices and consumption behaviors.

It can strive to be a model and incubator of technologies and initiatives that will become engines of large-scale social change.

The article was published in The Standard on July 31, 2019.

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