top of page
  • Writer's pictureGREEN Hospitality

Sustainable Events in Hong Kong: Challenges, Solutions, the Road Ahead

Generating US$621.4 billion of direct GDP and creating 26 million jobs globally, the business event sector would easily rank the 13th largest in the world if it were a country. That is how big of an economic impact business events have. What that also means is that business events have enormous potential to accelerate green recovery by creating positive social and environmental impact as well.

Whether as part of their corporate climate actions or as their CSR initiatives, companies are increasingly feeling compelled to commit to social and environmental responsibility, and industry reports too are highlighting a significant rise in sustainable and plastic-free events.

At GREEN Hospitality, we understand that the implementation of sustainability initiatives hinges, to a large extent, on the awareness and buy-in of partners, sponsors, and attendees. Three years ago, we launched our inaugural GREEN Hospitality Conference with sustainability in mind: there were vegetarian options in the lunch and refreshment menus, digital displays, and water jugs in lieu of single-use plastic water bottles. We were fortunate to have had Cordis, Hong Kong, a property of Langham Hotels International Limited, as our venue sponsor.

With the government’s Municipal Solid Waste Charging Scheme coming into effect soon, we wanted to find out how well-prepared the events industry in Hong Kong is in adopting more efficient approaches for waste management and resource consumption. The result is our Think Tank, “Transition to a Future of Sustainable Events in Hong Kong”, where individuals representing the events, hotels, and consulting industries, as well as the government and academia convened to share their knowledge, insight, and pain points, with the aim of co-creating a roadmap for the future of sustainable events in Hong Kong.

Obstacles Faced by the Events and Hotel Industries in Transition Towards Sustainability

While practitioners in the hotel and events industries acknowledge the unique power of in-person events in connecting people while driving change, their attempts at creating sustainable events have been met with challenges.

Waste Reduction and Management

For starters, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the momentum of sustainability initiatives due to health concerns. Said Helaine Tam, Senior Event Planning Manager at Marriott International: “Alternative water solutions have been explored prior to COVID-19, and yet once the pandemic hit, health and safety concerns arose, especially from the customer side. It was like taking one step forward and 10 steps back.”

But even without the pandemic, sustainability solutions remain largely costly and a hurdle too high for SMEs. “Sports and recreation clubs like us don’t have our own facilities to store products and resources to be shared with other organisations or reused for the next year”, said Robbie McRobbie, CEO of the Hong Kong Rugby Union. “And we typically don’t have the budget to hire a sustainability manager, which means that we are not well-prepared to implement best practices for big events.”

Having been running the successful GREEN Sevens for several years, however, the Hong Kong Rugby Union highlights another challenge faced by sustainability-minded practitioners. “We have been trying to persuade vendors to stop using single-use plastic straws, and we have been introducing reusable cups. It’s been an interesting journey, but it’s quite challenging simply because of the various stakeholders involved. We have no hold over them but rely on their cooperation – we can’t force them to stop using single-use plastics.”

As pointed out by Beatrice Remy, Managing Director and Founder of LORE, the absence of a library or directory of alternative materials is preventing SMEs from adopting sustainability practices. Said Robbie: “It is difficult to find information to make better decisions. For example, what does it mean if something is biodegradable? It has been very difficult to get clarity from the EPD despite our close relationship with them. And most organisations don’t have the time and resources to find this kind of information.”

For hotels, as is with many other sustainability initiatives, guest expectations of a luxury experience can hinder efforts. For example, recycling bins are still considered out of place at a luxury hotel.

While the events and hotel industries are aware of the extra cost and pressure to minimise waste generation that the MSW Charging Scheme entails, land scarcity means a lack of storage space and facilities for resource storage and reuse. Meanwhile, the popularity of buffet-style catering in Hong Kong and China means that there is still a high food wastage from food preparation to plate waste.

Carbon Reduction

With the Hong Kong government’s target to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and seeing as some cities and countries making strides in their decarbonisation endeavours, frustration dominated the discussion at the Think Tank.

Currently, decarbonisation effort in Hong Kong is reliant on a few providers, particularly the energy sector, said Chris Brown, Founder and Director of ReThink HK. However, the CLP Power Hong Kong Limited’s carbon calculator is too basic, covering only the low-hanging fruits such as transportation and food, said Beatrice Remy. Additionally, there is no in-depth research on the challenges and solutions for carbon reduction in the context of Hong Kong, and there is a lack of transparency in data collection and a carbon calculator with a reliable methodology.

Moreover, travel, transportation, and overseas delivery that have a noticeable impact on global warming and carbon footprint are generally overlooked in companies’ sustainable development agenda. Even for hotels or event organisers keen on introducing a meat-free menu, challenges abound in China, as a result of consumer expectations, higher costs, and the absence of creativity in curating vegetarian dishes.

What are the Possible Solutions for Sustainable Events in Hong Kong?

1. Education and Engagement One of the things preventing ideas from turning into actions is the gap of knowledge and awareness in internal staff, event attendees, and various stakeholders in the hotel and event industries. “There is a disconnect between leadership, who want to implement sustainable initiatives, and the operations staff, who want to do things the same way as before,” said Ada Yip, CEO of Urban Spring. “Show-and-tell is still much needed as guest education, so that operations staff will start to embrace initiatives. It’s not just being green but doing things that make business sense.”

However, for sustainable practices to make business sense, time and budget constraints faced by individual organisations and companies need to be addressed. Here, a charter signed by all stakeholders in the events industry can help accelerate progress. “At HKECIA, we are drafting a charter to be signed by all stakeholders - organisers, exhibition contractors, venues, exhibitors - in the industry as a means to help them reduce overall costs,” said Stuart Bailey, Chairman of The Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association (HKECIA). “The charter needs to be realistic, low-cost and high-impact. Exhibitors, in particular, need more education and convincing, as they don’t see how the logistics is being done.”

Additionally, guidelines for staff, impact reports for attendees, and a roadmap for event organisers can grow awareness and incentivise collaboration towards organising sustainable events. Event organisers can also communicate with attendees and involve them in small actions, as a way to induce behavioural change and enhance the company's reputation. At GREEN Hospitality, we will share practical resources on sustainable actions and create guidelines, case studies, criteria, and benchmarks to foster the transition.

2. Resource Repository and Guidelines on MSW Charging Scheme As pointed out by participants at the Think Tank, the absence of infrastructure to store large items for reuse and sharing is a major hurdle to efficient resource consumption and waste management. We urge the Hong Kong government to establish a municipal repository for the storage of collectively-owned items. This can not only promote a sharing economy within the events industry, but also reduce bulky waste and lower waste disposal costs. We also urge the government to increase investment in efficient and effective waste management solutions. At the same time, event organisers and hotel operators must strive to reduce food waste. In instances where that is not possible, they can donate surplus food, as well as furniture and appliances to charities in need. To help the events industry comply with the MSW Charging Scheme, GREEN Hospitality will coordinate with the government to design training and guidelines to make the stipulated criteria more comprehensible.

3. Carbon Footprint Calculator and Data Collection on Energy Consumption To set a baseline for the carbon footprint of the events industry in Hong Kong, so as to identify priorities and solutions, is crucial. In the meantime, venues and event organizers need to normalise the practices of collecting data on energy consumption, as well as reducing carbon emissions by reducing overseas delivery and encouraging fuel-efficient travel. When disincentivising meat consumption, hotel managers and event organisers can work with chefs to curate a diverse vegetarian menu, and consider including a carbon footprint count for each dish on the menu. “When we decided that half of the menu needed to be plant-based by 2030, the chefs were shocked at first, but the announcement also spurred experimentation and creativity,” said Carmen Ng, Director of Sustainability at Langham Hospitality Group. To expedite decarbonisation endeavours, GREEN Hospitality will coordinate with key leaders to develop a carbon footprint calculator and research better offsetting solutions.

Become a Member

Would you like to be amongst the first to be notified of GREEN Hospitality’s upcoming events, where you get to gain insights from or share sustainability case studies with fellow practitioners and stakeholders in the industry? Become a GREEN Member today to get discounts and complimentary tickets to events, and access resources and research by GREEN Hospitality!

This Think Tank was made possible by:

Venue Sponsor: Eaton Club

Content Partner: KPMG

We would like to thank all of you for attending the event:

  • Anita Chau, Director of Marketing and Events, KPMG

  • Stuart Bailey, Chairman of The Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association

  • Benjamin Iaquinto, Assistant Professor, The University of Hong Kong

  • Ceicy Wong, Managing Director, Vegware

  • Carmen Ng, Director of Sustainability at Langham Hospitality Group

  • Chris Brown, Founder and Director, ReThink HK

  • Ronald Ho, General Manager, Soap Cycling

  • Evangeline Wong, Senior Pricing Analyst, Guest Supply Asia Ltd

  • Tiffany Lee, Events & Communications Manager – Trade, British Consulate-General

  • Beatrice Remy, Managing Director and Founder, LORE

  • Rebecca FH Chan, Senior Manager, Tourism and Hospitality, Invest Hong Kong

  • Ada Yip, CEO, Urban Spring

  • Sindy Wong, Head of Tourism and Hospitality, Invest Hong Kong

  • Justin Tan, Business Development Manager, ORCA Asia

  • Amy So, Program Director, Asia Sustainability, Informa Markets Asia Ltd

  • Helaine Tam, Senior Event Planning Manager, Marriott International

  • Robbie McRobbie, CEO, Hong Kong Rugby Union

  • Winnie Chan, Director, Banyan Packaging (HK) Limited

  • Charlotte Leung, Assistant Marketing and Communications Manager, Informa Markets Asia Ltd

*Acknowledgment & Disclaimer:

Some of these events are funded by the Innovation & Technology Commission of the HKSAR.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material/event (or by members of the project team) do not reflect the views of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Innovation and Technology Commission, or the Vetting Committee of the General Support Programme of the Innovation and Technology Fund.

在本刊物/活動內 (或由項目小組成員) 表達的任何意見、研究成果、結論或建議,並不代表香港特別行政區政府、創新科技署或創新及科技基金一般支援計劃評審委員會的觀點。


bottom of page