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Going green: Business as usual, or is it?

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  • In tough economic times can companies afford to commit to being green?
  • Hong Kong conference had mix of ideas for companies to take action
  • What do you think? Use the box at the bottom of the page and have your say


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By Constance Cheng,
CNN Features Producer
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Considering the Greenworks conference in Hong Kong was about businesses getting back to nature, it was quite a flashy event -- literally, as the room was a buzz with gratuitous flashing lights.

'My name is Dominic and I'm a carbonholic': Dominc Purvis was just one of many at Greeworks advocating green company policies.

The conference aimed to show how corporations could go about business as usual while reducing their impact on the environment, so the dizzying lights didn't help.

Beyond the flashy intros, there was a long line of esteemed speakers, who revealed exactly how they were able to integrate a coherent sustainability policy while maintaining the bottom line.

Dominic Purvis, General Manager of Environmental Affairs for Cathay Pacific, began his talk with a confession: "I am a carboholic."

The truth is everybody in that room was. The global economy is based on industries and energy resources that produce an exorbitant amount of carbon emissions. It's systemic.

So for someone who worked for an airline, Purvis may be more guilty than others there, but the reality is that we are all equally addicted to carbon.

The point now was the new found impetus to do something about it.

The talk shifted from how to communicate your new green strategy to concrete changes themselves.

Purvis was keen to point out that institutional change in the airline industry was necessary but that any regulatory moves would need to be aware of its financial impact on the airlines -- effectively, not cripple operations with too many restrictions too quickly.

An interesting idea he mentioned was a landing technique aircrafts could adopt called the "Continuous Descent Approach" that promised to substantially cut fuel use and emissions.

The technique used at the moment requires the aircraft to stagger its approach by cruising for a given distance before dropping again to a lower altitude. It's a graduated approach where the aircraft descends slowly like steps on a staircase.

The proposed "Continuous Descent Approach" does exactly what it says on the tin, it's a direct approach from the cruising altitude to landing. It's simple geometry connecting two points with a straight line, but it's one that could cut emissions from air travel considerably.

Given the current financial crisis, it's clear that airlines will struggle to spend large amounts of money on green upgrades. This example shows there is a possible third option -- it's not always a questions of getting completely new technology but just using the technology in a more environmentally-friendly way.

Unfortunately, it not something that we could foresee in the near future given it would require major change in airport operations and navigation before this technique can be used.

'Don't make the same mistakes'

Another memorable exchange took place during one of the roundtable discussions. American Eric Bohm of WWF Hong Kong recounted an experience he had while speaking at a university in China.

A young Chinese student asked him how long ago it was when he (Bohm) was in his prime. Bohm answered the 1960's, making reference to America's golden age of industrial development, to which the Chinese student replied, "Well, now it's my turn".

The point here is a pertinent one. With the ongoing controversy about China's high carbon emissions, Bohm makes it clear that its not the right of any country to hinder the development of another.

Emerging markets like China will rigorously pursue the development of industry as others did decades earlier.

What Rohm did insist on however was a sage warning: Don't make the same mistakes we did.

The goal of the conference was to show that it is possible to conduct business as usual but with an environmental angle.

The trouble is that there's nothing usual about that idea --those in attendance to this conference are part of a minority, perhaps a growing minority, but one that will have to completely rewrite the rules of how business is done.

Consumer awareness for the environment may be growing, but the question now remains whether the more immediate concern for the global financial situation will sap this burgeoning momentum.

What do you think?

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Can businesses afford to become more environmentally responsible, or can the climate not? Will the economic downturn affect the rise in green policies and or will there always been more greenwashing than action?

Use the "Sound off" box below to have your say.

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