Putting down roots – Urban farming in Causeway Bay
The newsDesk meets Konnie Yu, Corporate Sustainability Manager at Hysan to dig dirt at their urban organic farm in the heart of Causeway Bay.
“You’re going to an organic farm,” they told me. “Where?” I asked. “In the middle of Causeway Bay,” they said. This must be some kind of joke. Where in one of the busiest commercial districts is there space for farming?
I met Hysan’s Corporate Sustainability Manager, Konnie Yu, in the elegant lift lobby of Hysan Place, with green fingers at the ready. “Will we walk?” I asked her. “No, we’ll take the lift,” she replied. The lift? Where is this farm? “And after the farm, I can show you the artificial wetland as well,” Konnie told me.
Intrigued, I step into the plush elevator. With a gentle whoosh, we speed 10 floors to the glass-ceilinged reception area. “Did you know the lifts are double deckers?” asked Konnie. “It means they people don’t need to wait so long and, of course, it’s far more energy efficient,” she added.
I know that Hysan has a strong vision for sustainability. Talking with Mark Tung, General Manager of Corporate Communications, I learned about Hysan’s long term plans to invest in pedestrian footbridges, and even move some traffic into road tunnels. I also knew that Hysan Avenue achieved the highest Beam Plus Platinum certificate for its environmental credentials.
“It’s easy to be a little sceptical when big business talks of corporate social responsibility. I’m a person who needs to see evidence before I form an opinion.”
But it’s easy to be a little sceptical when big business talks of corporate social responsibility. I’m a person who needs to see evidence before I form an opinion. But meeting with Konnie, I realise that Hysan is a company that not only talks the talk but walks the walk when it comes to enhancing the Causeway Bay district.
We arrive on the 38th floor, walk past the LinkedIn offices and follow a sign pointing to ‘Urban Farm’. A friend once told me that Hong Kong is a vertical city. At street level, it’s hard to know what hidden gems lie on upper floors. But, a farm? Seriously? There can’t be many landlords or property developers in Hong Kong. Konnie explains how Hysan planned this from the start, installing the machinery on lower floors. This left the vast, sunny roof area for an organic urban farm.
“Our participants have grown organic pumpkins and watermelons here,” explains Konnie. “Recently, people have grown a lot of peanuts and cucumbers,” she adds. Members get a plot of land to plant and attend during lunch time sessions. Companies love the programme and want to enrol staff. After a hard hour’s work, they can take showers before heading back to the offices below.
With such peace and quiet, it is impossible to tell we are in the heart of one of Hong Kong’s busiest neighbourhoods. The aromatic scent of rosemary and other herbs fills the air. Konnie explains that Hysan is considering setting up a regular marketplace where urban farmers can sell their produce to the public.
Not only did Hysan create the farm for tenants, staff and other Lee Gardens members, but they also partnered with local organic and green organisation, SEED, to run programmes and workshops on urban farming, low carbon living and other important green issues. Children attend events and workshops, plant and grow produce, learn about environmental problems and find out about the green credentials of the building.
We arrive at the artificial wetland. I’ve seen these kinds of environmental features before. Usually, they are token gestures included as an after-thought by planners: a way of wearing the sustainability badge without any serious commitment. But this is something very different.
“We collect rain water and the grey water from pantries and washrooms and use artificial wetland to filter it. The clean water is disinfected with UV light and then used again. For example, we use it for washing floors,” says Kitty.
The system is capable of cleaning 30 cubic metres per day. That’s enough for all the offices. Hysan even gained the first licence to pump excess water into the harbour. Since this was the first of its kind, the approval process took over a year. This company is serious about ensuring their buildings, and by extension, their tenants, contribute positively towards environmental improvement.
Konnie points out another key feature of the building. One that will resonate with many Hong Kong people – the ability to get fresh air into the office and reduce the need for 24/7 air conditioning. Above the windows, a line of vents allows airflow through the spaces meaning that tenants not only save money but reduce their carbon footprint. When the vents are open, the air conditioning is automatically suspended. A similar system has been installed at Science Park, Shatin, following Hysan’s lead.
I leave Konnie at the ground floor lobby and walk out into the packed streets. As we begin to feel the effect of climate change around the world, the need for everyone to change our behaviour becomes ever more urgent. Buildings like Hysan Place won’t change the world by themselves. But they have a much bigger impact on environmental sustainability than anyone individual could achieve alone. It’s an uplifting thought.