"We realised in 2007 that the construction industry had to take a really serious look at using more green products," says Vincent So Chee-wing, managing director of Jebsen Building Products.
"Since then, we have made a special effort to source the most environmentally friendly products from different parts of the world ... for the use of architects and developers in Hong Kong."
So notes there has been a marked shift in attitude in the past few years. People are more concerned about climate change and conservation, and this sentiment has filtered through to decision makers in the construction sector.
As a result, architects and project managers are increasingly basing designs for new buildings and renovations around green themes and products.
"We have a lot of contact with developers and keep feeding them the most up-to-date information about green technology and materials," So says. Typically, such discussions may detail how electronic sensors can cut water usage in commercial buildings. Or they could centre on why bamboo is better than conventional timber for flooring: it is sustainable, durable, faster growing than trees, and more easily processed. Or, interest may focus on items such as a titanium dioxide spray used to coat external tiling. This chemical treatment makes the tiles self-cleaning and breaks down nitrogen dioxide in the air, and also acts as an air purifier. "If you apply this over an external wall area of 1,000 square metres, it is equal to planting 800 trees around your building," So says.
He adds that when explaining such options to potential clients or government officials, it is important to be well armed with data, statistics and comparisons. For instance, if extolling the benefits of bamboo, he has facts at his fingertips about management of Jebsen's plantation near Hangzhou, transport of the finished product, installation on site, relative carbon emissions and disposal.
To make such "life-cycle" information easily available, Jebsen is embarking on a similar carbon emission "audit" for all major products used in the construction sector. It is an ambitious project, teaming up with consultants and using transparent methodology to devise a comparative rating system.
"We hope to set stringent industry standards, with internationally recognised procedures to help developers and architects select green products," So says. "It will provide more professional and accurate measures. At the moment, everybody claims their products are environmentally friendly, but we need a method to calculate that, so people can make a choice."
Australian companies continue to make a name for themselves as pioneers of practical and cost-effective green products. Recent innovations include:
- Flooring tiles made from the recycled corks of wine bottles
- A chemical stabliliser to treat and seal concrete. When applied, it shortens drying time by seven days, penetrates the concrete to a depth of 150mm, and seals up voids and gaps. By doing so, it creates a waterproof surface, prevents the growth of mould in humid areas, and improves conditions for maintenance and hygiene.