[Hui, S. C. M., 2001. The opinion of Hui, Sustainable Building, Issue 04, 2001, p. 43. (ISSN 1568-2919, published by AENEAS, Boxtel, The Netherlands)]

The Opinion of Hui
Hong Kong's environmental problems are similar to most developed communities. Rapid population growth, plus a high degree of commercial and industrial activities, creates pollution and environmental degradation. With a limited supply of habitable land and extremely dense urban conditions, the planning and development of building projects often faces significant spatial constraints and conflicting social issues. Economic and social imperatives dictate that the city must become more concentrated, making it necessary to increase the density to accommodate the people, reduce the cost of public services, and achieve social cohensiveness. High-rise, high-density developments represent the major architectural settings in Hong Kong and form an important background for sustainability challenges.

Sustainable building, as defined in Hong Kong (and other densely populated cities), must consider a range of factors which frame the current building development and city lifestyle. For example, because of the important element of land value, property developers usually demand a fast-track development and are more concerned with selling or letting their properties quickly than on long-term benefits. Short investment horizons and rapid economic changes in society also lead to concerns about initial costs and indifference to running costs and life-cycle penalties. Diverging interests, fragmented professional responsibility, complex building planning and design, low public awareness levels and a lack of planning controls currently hinder a holistic approach.

However, new factors have recently contributed to a growing interest in sustainability in the Hong Kong construction industry. Most significantly, the government is developing practical means to integrate sustainable development considerations into decision-making. In doing so, some competitie advantage might be gained from creating ecologically sound development projects and communities. From early 2001 onwards, financial incentives are being provided to developers by excluding some 'green' features from calculations of the gross floor area and site coverage. Further measures are also being considered. A set of building energy codes has now been implemented, which has triggered the study of greener and more energy-efficient buildings.

Some organisations have initiated voluntary schemes to stimulate market demand for buildings with improved environmental performance, e.g. the Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method scheme, which started in 1996. Although this has not yet been widely adopted, it provides a framework for encouraging better practices in building design and management. A growing number of environmental research projects have also been emerging over the past few years.

To put it in simple terms, sustainable building should mean a quality building that is efficient, elegant and easy to maintain, considering the efficient use of resources throughout the building life cycle and ensuring high productivity and wellbeing of the occupants. What makes a particular building 'green' is the unique solution that responds to specific functional requirements and climatic condition of the site. However, simply making individual building green is sometimes too narrow a concept, since green construction and assessment methods must be viewed as components of sustainable development for society as a whole. Other components, such as urban planning and transport strategy, will interact and influence the results. This is particuarly important for cities like Hong Kong. Evaluating the true value of sustainable building design requires knowledge and skills from many disciplines as well as participation and responsible attitudes by stakeholders.

Green building should be initiated by green people. As a teacher and researcher at the university, I understand the importance of education in changing attitudes and developing skills. Although awareness of sustainability concepts has been increasing in Hong Kong, both the general public and the professionals are currently still unclear or sceptical about sustainable development and design. Environmental sustainability is not a question that is commonly understood and practiced. Many barriers still exists that prevent people from adopting innovative designs for environmentally friendly buildings.

Although the momentum for sustainable building is growing in Hong Kong, more reforms and creative ideas are needed to remove the barriers and provide effective solutions to meet the local requirements in an intelligent way.

Sam C. M. Hui is a Research Assitant Professor, Department of Architecture, at Hong Kong University. He has researched building energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable architecture for over 12 years (http://arch.hku.hk/research/BEER/). With a professional background in building services engineering, he promotes the integration of architectural and engineering perspectives, to achieve effective sustainable buildings.
In "The opinion of ..." Anke van Hal asks prominent experts for their vision of sustainable building. The main theme is consistent throughout their comments.

The main theme:
- What is sustainable building?
- Does sustainable building have a future?
- Challenges?
- Bottlenecks?