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Hong Kong: Culture of consumption?

Much of the discussion in September in Hong Kong addressed the city’s cultural focus on consumption. Wai-Shin Chan, director for Asia Climate Change Strategy at HSBC (and others) pointed out that shifts in Hong Kong’s culture across government, business and society are essential to the acceptance and success of sustainability efforts. Changes suggested by the group fall in the following categories:

Individual thinking: Glenn Frommer, head of sustainability development at the MTR Corporation, suggested changing Hong Kong’s culture of consumption by focusing on work-life balance. Workers should prioritize family time over longer working hours, higher paychecks and conspicuous consumption, Frommer emphasized. Chan argued that this would require a corporate culture that allows employees to challenge the status quo, which is less acceptable in many Asian cultural contexts. Audience participants suggested changing compensation models to reward long-term gains (such as three- to five-year bonus cycles) to help shift individual mindsets.

Social security: Speakers also noted that without a stronger social safety net from government and business, workers will continue to focus on financial capital to support their families rather than on spending time with them. Frommer suggested that businesses implement paternity leave programs and that the Hong Kong government establish stronger social security programs.

The business case: When it comes to making progress on sustainability, Melissa Brown, principal at Serasi Capital and former executive director of ASRIA, said the business case needs to make clear why compliance is important -- which requires leadership from the top. Without strong internal communications on the relevancy of sustainability to the core business, and a focus on the medium- and long-term, sustainability will falter in Hong Kong.

This discussion was led by BSR Vice President for Asia-Pacific Jeremy Prepscius and moderated by Tom Holland, senior writer for the South China Morning Post.

All slideshow written content by Eva Dienel and Julia Robinson, BSR
Photo of Hong Kong skyline provided by leungchopan via Shutterstock.