ReThink Hong Kong is an ambitious two-day business conference taking place in Hong Kong this September that will explore and encourage meaningful partnerships, inspire organisational change and present solutions for a more sustainable economy, society and environment. Earth.Org spoke with ReThink founder, Chris Brown, about the event, the drive for sustainability in Hong Kong and how governments need to inspire consumer action.

The planet is facing unprecedented challenges due to unabated human activity. In order to give future generations a fighting chance of saving the planet, we need to prioritise collective change and shared responsibility through effective and meaningful collaboration. 

Earth.Org: How has COVID-19 Impacted the Organisation of the Event?

Chris Brown: Throughout February and March, things were very up in the air. We are very fortunate to have the partners that we do, who showed the commitment, support and flexibility that allowed us to find new dates in September. Of course, like everyone, we wish that COVID-19 hadn’t happened, but it’s opened up a new perspective for the event and we believe that we will have a more impactful event now; this pandemic shows that just as the effects of the virus are inescapable, so are those of the climate crisis. Unfortunately, there is a lack of comprehension of the severity of the climate crisis globally and in Hong Kong. A report by the Civic Exchange and World Resources Institute found that we need to cut emissions by 6.6% every year until 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement, which really puts a window on how bad the situation is. Their analysis highlights three key areas where Hong Kong has the greatest potential to reduce emissions, namely from improving electricity generation, making buildings more energy efficient and improving sustainability of transport. With the vast number of skyscrapers in Hong Kong and so much traffic on the road, it’s very clear that there is still a lot of work to do. 

However, despite these difficulties, we have still maintained our pledge of all delegate fees going to charity, as our commitment from the beginning has been to stage an impactful event while supporting our chosen NGOs (Feeding Hong Kong and Soap Cycling), which is all the more important in these difficult times. 

Regarding ReThink, we have one of the best speaker line-ups Hong Kong has seen, we have amazing support from our key stakeholders and all attendees are vetted and approved  so it will definitely be a purposeful event, with a delegate list that is authorised and empowered to drive change.

The virus has resulted in a different event to the one we designed 18 months ago – the perspectives will be vastly different because all these businesses have gone through an extremely challenging time and they all have different experiences as to how they have adapted to the pandemic. It’s not a big jump to apply these transformations as a result of COVID-19 to the environmental and social changes that we are asking them to adopt as well.

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What Attracted You to the Environmental Sphere in Hong Kong?

I am a sustainability enthusiast and when I was living in the UK, I had a garden with a composting heap and vegetable garden. The council was also really good at recycling so it was relatively easy to live a sustainable lifestyle which changed a lot when I moved to Hong Kong. It’s not impossible to be sustainable, it’s just extremely difficult. 

I did extensive analysis of sustainability events in Hong Kong (as planning high-value business events is my area of expertise) and what impact they were having. After a lot of consultations and research, where I went out and spoke to businesses about what sustainability means to them, I realised that this is an area lacking credibility in the city. I then decided to create an event that could add value to the existing dialogues by curating a programme that focuses on the ‘how’ not the ‘why’ and bringing together corporate and enterprise stakeholders that want to make a difference. ReThink is not about bringing the who’s who in sustainability, but about bringing in new organisations and making driving sustainable development attractive within your organisation. There are different ways of getting people excited about sustainability: you can show them the risks of standing still or you can show them the opportunities of adapting – the opportunity to run a better business, to engage with your community or to have a more positive impact across your value chain. My hope is that organisations want to change the way they operate as consumer behaviour changes and they’ll rather spend their money with companies who are demonstrating there is another way to operate.

I also hope that the government implements more stringent, and globally proven, regulation so that businesses have to change the way they operate. 

Do You Think That it’s the Government’s Mandate to Encourage Sustainability?

Absolutely. The news that the municipal charging waste scheme has been withdrawn after a decade of debate and negotiations shows that something is wrong. I think I am confident in saying that governments believe that businesses wouldn’t want to pay, but there are proven models around the world that show that businesses will pay if the model is right and effective. 

We could turn the waste problem in Hong Kong into an opportunity for the city to become a regional leader in recycling- there is no reason why the government cannot make the necessary investment into this. There is a saying that “waste is just a resource in the wrong place;” if we put the infrastructure in and provide businesses with incentives to opt in to these services, we can create a whole new economy in Hong Kong, one that creates jobs and provides revenue. 

An example of this is a partnership between Baguio and Swire Beverages, where they’re establishing Hong Kong’s first dedicated PET and HDPE Recycling Facility. This is a great example of private businesses working to make a change but perhaps this should be the government’s responsibility instead of relying on the private sector. 

ReThink gives businesses a stage to talk about the challenges they’ve faced, how they’ve overcome them and the advice that they have for other stakeholders. 

Collaboration is open to everyone, and we hope that ReThink becomes the event in Hong Kong that enables effective solutions to be implemented and for this dialogue about the opportunities that becoming more sustainable will bring. It’s a shame that it’s taken something like COVID-19 to wake people up, but at least people are waking up.

ReThink will take place on September 2 & 3 at K11 Atelier King’s Road, Hong Kong. Sponsors of the event include HSBC, Cathay Pacific, SAP, CLP, Eaton, Impossible and InvestHK.

ReThink has been designed for professionals who are driven by, or challenged with, sustainability goals for their business or organisation and the event will answer a question that is vitally important for businesses in Hong Kong: how can we help businesses accelerate change towards a more sustainable future?

The event provides a platform for businesses, government and not-for-profit organisations to collaborate with each other to work towards a more sustainable world. Delegates can discuss how to implement actionable practices while meeting providers with deployable technology and real solutions. 

To see the program of the event, click here.