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Green Vibes

Karen Wong – The Standard
Monday, March 31, 2008

Over the past decade, words like global warming, pollution, and recycling have become part of the everyday vocabulary. Andrew Thomson, chief executive officer of The Business Environment Council, has been one of the strongest proponents of environmental protection, pushing forth agendas to make Hong Kong a “greener” place.

Thomson’s passion for environmental issues is more than just saving trees, or cleaning the air, but he sees the practicality in being environmentally friendly.

Arriving in Hong Kong in 1992 from the United Kingdom, Thomson immediately found himself involved in environmental-related work.

“Hong Kong has improved significantly. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, constructions were horrible everywhere.

“There has been some significant advance in environmental construction. Now, people have come to incorporate green building effectively,” he said.

With his deep knowledge in environmental science, along with his experience in numerous industries, Thomson is currently working with many different sectors in Hong Kong to understand that it is possible to be both environment and cost-friendly.

“We would often target transport- related issues, buildings and the manufacturing sector, and we would receive lots of general criticism on environmental issues,” recalled Thomson.

It is hard, he said, for people to see the progress that the city has made when in fact the progress takes a long period of time.

“It is a huge challenge, it’s not like deciding whether to have steak or fish,” he said.

“People are impatient when it comes to pollution, the problem is that there’s no magic wand on such an issue.

“Although the government is [taking] drastic measures to prepare for the Beijing Olympics, it only works for a short-term fix. If it is used for the long term, it would stop economic development.” He said when it comes to environmental issues, the discussion is the same in the East and the West.

“It is always about economic development against environmental protection. Issues such as air pollution and water conservation are always quite challenging, but recently, food availability has been ever increasingly challenging.”

Thomson started his career in retail banking, but after receiving enough mileage in the financial world, he went back to the environmental science- related issue, which “was very dearest to my heart.”

“Many see environmental issues as black and white. They think that business makes money and environmental issues cost money,” said Thomson, adding, “environmental issues are part of management issues that a company should take, same as human resources, same as cash flow management.

“Historically, companies comply with government legislation, but government legislation is the minimum requirement. The companies are actually interested in being efficient because efficiency saves money.”

As a member of the HKSAR Government’s Waste Management Appeals Board, Thomson says environmental issues are about being efficient. “Environmental issues [have] become part of the efficiency drive.”

In a job where success cannot be noticed right away, Thomson said breakthroughs have been made in promoting green buildings.

“We have accessed over 200 buildings in Hong Kong to help them in adopting a practice to increase the efficiency with the way buildings use their resources.”

Also a member of the Council for Sustainable Developments Strategy Sub-Committee, Thomson works to help companies incorporate a suitable plan that benefits both the environment and the companies themselves.

“Green building is one of BEC’s projects, it’s my baby. We’ve been working for over 13 years, making changes and improving the usage of buildings with different companies.”

In terms of personal investment, Thomson says he has invested some money in funds related to environmental issues but his largest investment lies in property.

“I would say I have a fairly balanced portfolio. Some aggressive, some non- aggressive. I don’t have a great deal of money invested in Hong Kong, most of my money is invested in the MPF.”

Looking ahead to the future, Thomson is realistic.

“Looking ahead, I don’t see the air clearing up in the next few years. I continue to see a lot of challenges, such as the issue with the harborfront. [But] I believe the harbor will become more and more clear.”

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