Grand Award Winners

The City University of Hong Kong (CityU) would like to express its sincere gratitude to all students (secondary schools and CityU) who participated in the Big Questions Challenge (BQC). A total of more than 900 questions were received from around 20 secondary schools and the University. The posted questions and comments reflect a high awareness of sustainability issues among students in the local community. City University has engaged a panel of judges to review the questions; and together they have selected several of the best ones. The contributors come from both categories of participants.

The University is now pleased to announce the winners of the BQC, 3 from each category. The students will receive the Grand Award in the last featured program of the Roundtable: Sustainable Policy-making, on 23 October 2014.

Grand Awards





Would exporting rubbish work?

The government considers the construction of landfills as a necessary temporary measure to deal with the waste problem. But Hong Kong has a very large population and a severe shortage of land. The landfills that are now closed will need at least 30 years to completely recover [before they can be used again]. Clearly, it is inadvisable to make any hasty decisions to expand landfills in Hong Kong where land is a prime commodity. Besides, the construction of landfills is by no means a short-term project. If indeed the treatment of rubbish is a pressing and severe issue, shouldn't the government consider some other practical temporary measures?

Undeniably, reducing waste at the source, strengthening waste recycling programs and using the heat from incinerators to generate electricity are all pragmatic long-term methods to solve the problem of high-volume rubbish in Hong Kong. However, when the relevant government policy is not yet in place and an incineration-powered electricity plant has yet to be built, should we then unthinkingly dump huge volumes of rubbish at landfills and waste our precious land resources carelessly?

In comparison with the zero landfill policy in Europe, Hong Kong is lagging far behind in this effort. Sweden has gone so far as to become the first country in the world to import rubbish to generate thermal electricity. Sweden and Hong Kong are polar opposites as far as waste policy is concerned: Sweden is advanced whereas Hong Kong is not. The former is looking for rubbish for its incinerators while the latter, not knowing what to do, is simply disposing of rubbish. Shouldn't they work together and give each other what they need?

In fact, would it not work better for a place to hand over rubbish to another which is more capable of dealing with it?
CityU Category Mr. CHAN Foon Lok Department of Information Systems
Commentary from Judges: This is a very important and interesting question that introduces not only a new direction but new insights into the problem of waste management. Overseas practices as well as disputes on the subject in connection with international politics and ethical concepts in humanities could be brought in for exploration. However, it may be important to consider that not all waste can be burnt (e.g. building rubble) so while incineration is a great idea it will not solve everything. There are international conventions (Basel Convention) that limit the international transfer of waste. This might fit into a Social Business discussion.

How can businesses integrate sustainable habits and environmentally friendly products efficiently?

Businesses are profit oriented - that is the basis of economics. Most people can realize the importance of sustainability and environmental protection, but it is much more difficult to motivate businesses to make personal sacrifices. Sustainability is seen as secondary to the main aims of stockholders and businessmen, especially as "green" products are not much more popular than their (mostly cheaper) counterparts. It seems as though it will be difficult for businesses to adapt green policies if there is no profit/benefit, or if it is inconvenient. What are some efficient, easy ways for businesses to become "green" and sustainable? How could you convince businesses that becoming sustainable will be the best for them?
Secondary School Category Ms. Grace Anne WANG King George V School
Commentary from Judges: This is a very good question which provides intellectual insights into the issue of the future economic development of Hong Kong. It addresses the conflicts that exist between profit motives and green practices and through discussion will hopefully provide valuable input for industries that are currently facing sustainability challenges in their businesses.

How can entrepreneurs be encouraged to maintain CSR practices in their businesses?

It is believed that in order to maintain corporate social-responsible ("CSR") or even environmentally-friendly business practices, there must be an alignment of the "3 P's". Profit, People and Purchase. In profit, obviously the venture must reap a return on investment. In people, all stakeholders of the business (investors, directors and managers, the employees) must be taken care of in order for all members of the business to grow together. In purchase, this being the most crucial, how to procure resources that reduce the carbon foot print of the venture the most needs to be considered. If transport distances were greatly reduced by sourcing materials closer to Hong Kong, then the carbon footprint to purchase those materials would lower its impact on the environment.

Altogether, these 3 P's will prove essential for CSR practices to flourish in any venture.

Taking a closer look at Hong Kong, it seems that many business owners are unable to afford or even be aware of the 3 P's. Or even if they can try to incorporate greater CSR efforts, there are other external factors that make it difficult or close to impossible to achieve the desired outcomes in the 3 P's. It is usually very easy to place blame on the local government for their lack of incentivising policies or to find the root cause of the problem on unfavourable extrinsic factors uncontrollable by entrepreneurs. However, how much blame can the Hong Kong government really shoulder? Are they partly or solely responsible for the lack of CSR engendered practices among companies? Are there not other macro-economic factors at play here that are impeding the progress for entrepreneurs? Why is it that other major idea-hubs like Silicon Valley or London or Boston are able to provide greater business-friendly environments for such CSR businesses and Hong Kong cannot? It is hoped that future macro-economic and development policies implemented by the Hong Kong government can be implemented with greater speed, efficiency and accuracy. As most private business people would agree: "time is money".
CityU Category Mr. HUI Raphael Yulhay School of Law
Commentary from Judges: This is an interesting, sophisticated question that challenges the role of individual companies and their corporate responsibility for sustainable practices rather than putting the responsibility on the shoulders of the government. The feedback will be beneficial for putting forward useful suggestions on issues facing Hong Kong society.

政府應選擇由香港主導的天然氣發電, 還是向內地購入更為多元化, 而且包含可再生能源的電源呢?

都市生活, 能源是不可缺少的重要一環。香港燃煤發電機組將於2017年相繼退役, 而且香港政府需重新發放牌照予兩電公司。 政府因而推出兩個能源方案.其一為網電方案, 主要指向中國南方電網購電。其二為全力支持本地天然氣發電。然而兩個方案都很大程度上要依靠中國大瑟的資源輸入。 政府應選擇由香港主導的天然氣發電, 還是向內地購入更為多元化, 而且包含可再生能源的電源呢?

Should the government adopt the Hong Kong-led initiative of generating electricity by natural gas, or purchase electricity from the Mainland that is produced by using diverse methods, including the use of renewable energy?

Energy sources are indispensable in urban life. Hong Kong coal-burning generators will be retired one by one in 2017, and the government also needs to issue new licenses to the two power companies. The government has thereby pushed forward two energy plans: the first one is to utilize a power grid, involving primarily the purchase of energy from the power grid in southern China. The second one is to put its full support behind the production of electricity by natural gas. Nevertheless, both plans rely to a large extent on importing a large number of resources from the Mainland. Should the government choose to adopt the Hong Kong-led initiative of generating electricity by natural gas, or purchase electricity from the Mainland that is produced by using diverse methods, , including the use of renewable energy?
Secondary School Category Mr. CHEN Hoi Fung Hong Kong Tang King Po College
Commentary from Judges: The entry points out the dilemma Hong Kong is facing regarding its energy source options and bringing about changes to its energy supply. It is an important Hong Kong issue which leaves room for debate. However, there is the question of whether the energy from China will be green or merely low carbon. Also worth considering is would the purchase of energy from China lead to a loss of expertise and capability in Hong Kong?

Is it possible to build a net-zero energy building (NZEB) in Hong Kong? If so, is it feasible and practical to do so?

The Wikipedia entry of NZEB describes it as "a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site."

Given the increased awareness about global warming and depletion of dwindling hydrocarbon supplies, there has been greate interest around the world in building and researching techniques to build NZEBs more efficiently. Many governments view NZEB as an attractive option to sustainability since on top of the potentially significant energy saving over the lifetime of the building, NZEB also isolates the building owner from future energy price increases.

Singapore has retrofitted the first existing building in Southeast Asia with green building design features and technologies to convert it into a NZEB. In light of the above, is it possible to do the same in Hong Kong? What are the scientific and engineering challenges that any such projects will face and can they be overcome?
CityU Category Mr. CHOW Wing Shing School of Law
Commentary from Judges: The question is an appropriate and creative one although one judge points out that NZEB might not be feasible in Hong Kong. It does however address an interesting development in technology and design of buildings which provide a springboard to discuss the many possibilities Hong Kong can adopt in constructing green and energy efficient buildings. This would be of special interest to K S Wong the Secretary of Environment.



How can usable land be increased without damaging the eco-environment?

Hong Kong is a densely populated place with little land. The government has been striving hard to increase the supply of apartments to meet the huge demand for housing. This includes acquiring new land by reclamation, developing rural areas, and re-vitalizating old districts by rebuilding them or clearing old buildings.

However, because of the need to re-allocate the original residents, re-development projects often take decades to complete. Given the pressure of the rapid population growth that Hong Kong is experiencing, spending so much time on re-developing an old district is not practical. Acquiring new land seems therefore to be the only way out. We know that land reclamation produces an adverse effect on the marine ecology and the aquatic habitat, but what is more important: marine conservation or land acquisition? That is a difficult question to answer because both are important. We should not sacrifice the marine ecology for the development of the city. In the same way, to develop rural regions will also destroy the birds’ and animals’ habit. Some people also worry that under the imperfect rural development plan, the unquenchable thirst for land may turn Hong Kong literally into a concrete jungle. How can we strike a balance between development and conservation?
Secondary School Category Ms. CHEUNG Yan Ting Christian Alliance S C Chan Memorial College
Commentary from Judges: This is a very realistic, core question that addresses the constraints Hong Kong faces regarding how it should deal with the shortage of land and the urgent issues concerning future development. One judge is not sure they are greatly in favour of re-vitalizating old districts by rebuilding them or clearing old buildings. They feel it runs in conflict with a sense of space and the enormous and unrecognized value of Hong Kong’s older architecture. However, whether conservation should include heritage in addition to the natural world would be a great topic for debate.