As an industrialist, Dominic Yin learned all he needed for his new calling – environmental evangelist
Barclay Crawford – Updated on Jan 20, 2008 – SCMP
Dominic Yin has taken nearly a lifetime to find his true calling. The former industrialist and entrepreneur, 66, now describes himself as an environmental evangelist.
He handed over the control of his companies to his son, Benjamin, in 2000, and in the past seven years, he has attended close to 200 conferences, seminars, panels and other environmental-related discussion groups – all funded from his own pocket.
Mr Yin began his working life at the Dah Chung Industrial Company, a manufacturing firm, in 1966. On returning to Hong Kong from Taiwan in the 1980s, he established trading and investment company Trigo Enterprises and was active in a number of other businesses in Hong Kong, Taiwan and on the mainland. Since 2000, he has formed a number of environmentally focused companies.
This journey, he defends China against US politicians who question the emerging superpower’s commitment towards tackling its environmental problems. On the other side, despite being a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee, he is still just as comfortable standing up to top party officials who are standing in the way of environmental progress on the mainland.
Mr Yin has just established the Hong Kong Association of Energy Services Companies (Haesco), a collection of businessmen, engineers and other professionals and concerned citizens determined to improve energy efficiency and protect the environment.
The long-term goal of the group is to bring the “blue skies back to Hong Kong”, but they are focused on bringing their experience to help find clean production solutions and energy efficiency projects. The organisation’s backers believe it will be able to offer solutions to companies and governments who want help in becoming sustainable and energy efficient.
“We can work very quickly to get a success in energy efficiency,” he says. “I can assure you that if we get strong support from the government and society, we will get back our white clouds.”
They want experienced business owners, students and all those concerned with improving energy efficiency in Hong Kong, the mainland, and indeed Asia, to join. More than 40 corporations and individuals have signed up and the number is expected to grow quickly, as the appetite for change in Hong Kong is strong, Mr Yin says. Many members own the factories on the mainland which have contributed to the environmental problems there and want to find another way.
Mr Yin says many companies and governmental organisations want to do something for the environment but are unsure where to start.
He says there is no reason that a developed and wealthy Hong Kong, with its growing environmental awareness, could not become a world leader in green production technologies, driven by profits rather than just goodwill.
Members include local and international energy firms that can help factories upgrade production technology, use less energy and improve their pollution controls. The group has 12 specific projects for the coming year, including a hospital in Shenzhen.
Mr Yin finds it hard to pinpoint what led him to the cause he now pursues so zealously. Partly it was friends such as Steve Wong, now the vice-chairman of Haesco, who first discussed energy efficiency with him while they served together on the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce in 1999. At the time, he admits, he knew little.
“But for my age, I’m learning fast,” he says, laughing. “I can make speeches anywhere.”
The end of the decade was also a time when many were looking to the future. At heart a manufacturer, he says he believed there would be five important technological issues which would need new ideas, thoughts and research – information technology, new materials, aerospace, bacterial diseases and, finally, environmental technologies. “The other four were out for me. IT? I’m too old for that. In Silicon Valley, they consider 30 as too old. In aerospace, China and Japan are all over that,” he says, “and with new materials, you need billions of dollars. So, I was left with environmental technology.”
Another major factor on the path to environmental enlightenment also came with wanting to do something with his life that stood him apart from his father. He did not want to be seen as just the son of C.C. Yin.
From humble beginnings, Yin Chi-chung first built his fortune in pre-communist China. By the end of the Japanese occupation, he owned many factories, a bank, transport company, and two newspapers. So on May 19, 1941, Dominic Yin was born into a family of considerable influence and wealth in the Chinese wartime capital of Chungking (now Chongqing ) in the middle of the struggle against the Japanese.
After China fell to the Communists, the family moved to Taiwan and bought factories from the Japanese. In the 1950s he was kicked out, accused of being a communist because he had met senior party members in Shanghai in the 1930s.
The family set up home in Hong Kong, and Mr Yin dutifully followed his father’s advice by studying management and engineering in the US before joining the family business.
However, Mr Yin had inherited some of his father’s stubbornness, and the two clashed, so he moved back to Taiwan and made his own path and fortune in manufacturing.
But he was still not happy. At the back of his mind was a nagging desire to contribute to society. When he arrived back in Hong Kong in 1984, he again thought that he wanted to do something different from his father. “Money to me is not that important. I really wanted to do something that was meaningful,” he says in the booming voice that betrays his passion for Peking opera. “I came back and I was thinking and I did a little business. At that time, my children were small, and I had to make some money; otherwise, how could I make the money to send them to the US? I had to spend US$100,000 a year on tuition.
“I wanted to do something better than my father. That is good motivation.”
The former industrialist, entrepreneur and patriot is not being conceited when he makes this statement. Old friend and engineer John Herbert, who is also a director of Haesco, says that Mr Yin is a practical man, with no airs and graces, who talks straight and doesn’t have the time for building a lasting monument to his ego. Despite the determination to forge a better environmental future, Mr Yin has no doubts about how potentially long and hard the path will be.
“Most of the entrepreneurs are so busy making quick money and do not have the social responsibility to do something for the environment,” he says.
“If you go to any high-rise in Hong Kong, you will find there is no such thing as environmental efficiency. I was talking to one of the big developers and asked him why he wasn’t educating the buyers, but this son of a gun said: `Firstly, I don’t want to hear it, and secondly, do you think the buyer will believe it?'”
Then there is the mainland, where rapid development has seen a focus on money before all else.
“The only thing they believe is to take money from your pocket and put it in their pocket,” he says. “That is the only thing they believe. No matter what kind of method, that is what they want. That is my experience of China. But business development at the cost of social and cultural development is not good.”
Mr Yin says this can be seen in the corruption in the government. There is often no interest in the outside world.
“Many of them don’t like classical music, art or theatre. They like karaoke sung by pretty girls,” he says.
Mr Yin points to the continued desertification of the mainland, which is happening at a rate of 3,000 sq km each year. There are 400 million people living – and destroying – areas which are under threat. “We really have to influence the government because if we don’t do anything for China, I don’t know how many years [it will be] before the whole of China becomes desert,” he says. “They are not stupid, and they know there are problems that need to be solved. I will just have to sleep less and work harder.”
And tomorrow he is off to the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.