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July 16th, 2008:

Clean Up Your Act In The Kitchen

Elizabeth Horscroft – Updated on Jul 16, 2008 – SCMP

If you are serious about reducing your energy consumption and helping the planet, the second thing to do once you’ve turned off your air conditioner, is to green your kitchen.

The kitchen is an energy hog in the home, largely due to the number of appliances that feed off electricity. Yet experts say that creating an eco-friendly kitchen goes beyond changing what you can see, and includes strategies such as improving air quality and eradicating the use of toxic chemicals.

Going green can have its pitfalls though, as it means asking if the products you are buying are actually as green as the manufacturer claims they are.

“We have to consider how the product is made and where [the company that makes it] disposes of its waste in order for it to be truly environmentally friendly,” said Diane Urmeneta, an interior designer with IF Collection.

Bruce Harwood, general manager of Palladio Kitchens, agreed. “Only if they can show a certificate can you trust it. I imagine that many local suppliers would not be able to do that because their products are made in China in factories they have no control over. It might not be as environmentally friendly as you had hoped.”

Another drawback is the cost. While the quality and designs have improved in recent years and rival the more conventional products, prices for these niche items are high.

Mr Harwood estimated that it would cost 5 to 10 per cent more to have an environmentally friendly kitchen fitted. He said clients in Hong Kong rarely asked for green options in their kitchen designs, and it was not high on their priority list. But energy-efficient appliances were a more common request.

The flipside of high initial costs is improved energy efficiency over time, cleaner indoor air and a reduced impact on the environment.

Appliances and lighting

Appliances with a Grade 1 Energy Efficiency label are the best way to curb energy consumption and save money. Energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs and dimmer switches for overhead lighting are more energy efficient and last longer, although they are more expensive. Replace old, inefficient hot water heaters with one central gas heater. Simon Damman, a contractor and director of OzWorks, said: “The instantaneous ones only heat the water that is being used, unlike the big tanks that heat water all the time. Cost-wise, they are better than electric [water heaters].”

Indoor air quality

Proper home ventilation is essential for good health. Cooking fumes and gases from flooring, paint, cabinets and countertops all contribute to indoor air pollution.

Mr Harwood said a kitchen window was not enough. Installing a cooker hood with powerful extract ventilation was your best defence for clean indoor air. “If you have an open kitchen it is a good idea to add an additional extract motor on the outside end of the extract duct,” he said. This would assist the cooker hood’s motor and increase its pulling power.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted by paints and wood preservatives, so choose low-VOC paints and low-VOC wood. This is important because exposure to VOC gas is associated with everything from eye, nose and throat irritation to cancer.

Countertops, cabinets, flooring

If you are renovating your kitchen, consider reusing existing materials. If you are buying new, choose materials that are made from recycled or renewable resources.

Unfortunately, this won’t always be easy. Many speciality green products available overseas, such as innovative countertops made from recycled paper or hemp, are not widely available in Hong Kong. But, Mr Harwood said, it was not impossible to get them.”Everything is possible if you want to bring it in.”

If a limited budget and time do not allow for importing, the better options for natural countertops easily sourced in Hong Kong are glass, stone and tiles, including mosaics. Mosaics are the original eco-friendly tile, using broken chips from larger pieces of glass, stone or other material.

Ms Urmeneta preferred to use engineered stone, an aggregate of stone chips and dust bound by cement or resin. as a low-cost alternative to quarrying huge granite or marble slabs.

For cabinets Mr Harwood recommended medium-density fibreboard, made in a similar way by binding wood chips with resin. But choose boards that were made to European specifications and were low in formaldehyde, or the gases they emitted could be harmful to your health. Certain solid oaks grown commercially in Europe from sustainable sources are another option. The jury is still out on bamboo. Although it is a fast-growing plant with enviable properties for cabinets and flooring, the standards of harvesting and processing can vary.

Mr Damman suggested foregoing wood altogether, as it was not practical flooring for Hong Kong’s climate. Stone tiles, concrete, and even seagrass or wool carpets would be more eco-friendly alternatives, depending on the company that manufactured them.

Kitchen chemicals

Jo Bryce, a programme director at Ark Eden, a Lantau Island-based environmental organisation, said: “If you wouldn’t eat it or put it on your skin, then don’t use it in your house. Chemical cleaning agents pollute indoor air and our water supplies.”

She said bicarbonate of soda was a natural and inexpensive multipurpose alternative. “It has scouring power and removes stains and odours.”

She said white vinegar (for windows), diluted essential oil of lavender (fabric softener), and diluted lemongrass and tea-tree oil (disinfectant) were other environmentally friendly alternatives.

Carbon footprint

The hidden cost of all eco-friendly products in Hong Kong is in the use of petroleum. Experts say that if it is imported, it will have a carbon footprint associated with its transport. This is the great irony of eco-friendly products such as low-phosphate detergents.

Sam Bevan, director of the British Council’s Climate Cool project, said: “I used to buy these more in Britain, but I must confess to not using them much over here, partly because of availability and cost, and also because I have concerns about the transport factor.”


The easiest start to a green kitchen is also its cornerstone – recycling, in any of its many guises from reusing aluminium foil to composting. “This can significantly reduce the amount of waste you are sending to landfills,” Ms Bevan said.

Australia Seeks A Climate Of Persuasion

Greg Barns – Updated on Jul 16, 2008 – SCMP

China is looming large over the Australian government’s efforts to tackle climate change. That was made clear this week in a clash between two economic heavyweights: Harvard University’s Jeffrey Sachs and the Australian governments’ chief climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut.

Professor Garnaut, a former ambassador to China, has been heading a taskforce on climate change policy. Appointed by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd shortly after he assumed office in November last year, Professor Garnaut has recently released a report which has, as its centrepiece, an emissions trading scheme.

The introduction of such a scheme, which will effectively tax heavy greenhouse gas emitters, is not dependent on the introduction of similar schemes overseas, particularly in major polluters such as China and India. And this is where the controversy lies.

Speaking at the Australian National University’s annual China Update on Monday, Professor Sachs, who advises UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said that China would never sign up to any emissions trading scheme.

According to media reports, Professor Sachs said: “We’re going to get agreement by showing a path, and saying to [nations like] China, first, we understand that your desire to catch up [in living standards] is non-negotiable. Yes, we need [carbon] pricing. I actually believe it will come country by country, and not by a global agreement.”

Professor Garnaut disagrees. Under his plan, Australia should move quickly to introduce an emissions trading scheme and seek to influence countries like China, India and Indonesia to follow suit. As he said last week: “The arithmetic of solving the global problem doesn’t work unless China plays a substantial role from an early date.”

The message that Professor Sachs conveyed to Australia is manna from heaven for those who argue that Australia should not sacrifice economic growth for the sake of showing global leadership on climate change, while China continues on its merry way.

Some unions and businesses fear that, if Australia heads down the path of an emissions trading scheme while China does not, investment will simply relocate.

So is Australia being gullible in thinking that it can persuade China to take radical action on climate change in the short term by introducing an emissions trading scheme? Maybe, but Australia has never been better placed to work with China given Professor Garnaut’s credentials and, of course, those of Mr Rudd – the only western leader to speak Putonghua.

There were similar voices of doom when Australia began to radically reduce trade barriers two decades ago. Since then, trade flows between Australia and Asia have soared as a result of greater trade liberalisation. And one of the architects of Australia’s bold trade strategy was Professor Garnaut, as economic adviser to prime minister Bob Hawke in the 1980s.

Greg Barns is a political commentator in Australia and a former Australian government adviser