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Building a greener future
John Cremer
update on Saturday, August 21, 2010
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With construction-related projects in Hong Kong making major demands on energy supply, and accounting for a sizeable proportion of the total waste generated, companies in the sector know they must raise their game in terms of environmental protection and sustainability.

"The right concepts must be integrated in design and construction, and be part of the operations through the whole lifecycle of a building," says Damienne Joly Hung, design manager at Dragages Hong Kong. "We can implement things that are not revolutionary, but which do make a difference and don't necessarily add to the overall expense."

Certification standards, such as the Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method, set out guidelines and recommend best practices for building and infrastructure projects, covering aspects such as site management and energy saving. But Joly notes that it should be just a starting point, as the onus is on the team, including architects, environmental consultants and engineers, to go beyond the basics in a push for greener concepts and more sustainable solutions. "From the very beginning, we work with environmental consultants and in-house technical teams," she says. "Of course, we have to adapt to site conditions and client requirements. But by looking at a combination of elements in the design phase, like natural ventilation, daylight factor and rainwater collection, we can have a real impact."

Ken Kwok Kei-fai, a design manager at Dragages Hong Kong, who is engaged on tunnel boring for part of the MTR express rail link (Hong Kong section), is particularly encouraged to see how general thinking has changed over the past 15 years. He remembers working on the Tai Lam road tunnel in the mid-1990s when environmental impact assessments were something new, and limited thought was given to on-site recycling and carbon footprints.

Now, every part of a project is scrutinised, with consideration of short- and long-term consequences of any decision. For example, specially designed water-treatment tanks, storage silos and piping are installed to treat and recycle the large volume of water needed for the tunnel-boring machines. If trees are felled in the course of construction, they are "chipped" and used as fertiliser or mulch in local parks, with a corresponding number later planted as compensation. Excavated earth may be converted to slurry and pumped to a barging point through pipelines for further disposal, thereby cutting down on truck trips, air pollution and noise. "Sometimes, we don't need even extra money in the budget to be more environmentally friendly," Kwok says. "If the client is flexible about the specification we, as a contractor, can make further suggestions about how to use less concrete, less transport and how to minimise the carbon footprint." The key to progress is to encourage on-site initiatives and ensure that formal training increases awareness of the issues and of best international standards.

With this in mind, the company is launching a special "build green" programme to give design managers and commercial staff the tools and training needed to incorporate and promote practical environmental concepts. Local professionals and experts from the company's French headquarters will teach the course, along with external consultants who are already considering what the industry will look like 20 years from now. "This programme will differentiate our group, helping us make sustainable development a business strategy in the coming years," says Martin Schulz, regional human resources director for Asia at Dragages Hong Kong. "Our training centre in Asia is managed from Hong Kong and, as an international organisation, we can capitalise on the benefits of localised training and certain management programmes run in France for the group worldwide."

Rapid expansion means that Schulz will be busy with training and recruitment. With the construction industry experiencing a boom, his challenge is to double the size of the local team by late next year.

The priority is to hire experienced engineers and fresh graduates. "Finding the resources is the challenge, but we need the building blocks in place for future growth," he says.


In brief

  • Focus on finding civil, construction, building services, mechanical and electrical engineers
  • Two salary reviews per year to ensure packages are competitive
  • Some overseas hiring expected, but up to 900 positions for local Hong Kong staff

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