Laboratory Safety
December 2012
From Environmental Protection to Sustainability

HKUST has taken on an active environmental role since day one. The proactive efforts of Estates Management Office (now Facilities Management Office, FMO), the establishment of Environmental Health and Safety Committee and Safety and Environmental Protection Office (now Health, Safety and Environment Office, HSEO) are prominent milestones of these persistent efforts, which have lasted to the present, and will certainly go on.

One only needs to turn to the Environmental Reports ( published by the University since 1999-2000 to see many environmental efforts that have marked us as leaders not only of tertiary educational institutions, but local public organizations in terms of environmental protection. HSEO has taken the lead in ensuring campus environmental compliance, promoting environmental awareness and practices, and managing hazardous wastes. FMO colleagues have devoted countless efforts in energy saving, waste management and green features of campus buildings. Other campus units such as Campus Services Office, Student Affairs Office, Information Technology Services Center and Purchasing Office all take parts in various ways to help protect the environment. Most members of the campus community are aware of and many involved in various manners in these efforts, and these are all worthy efforts that we should continue.

About four years ago, a transformation has been initiated. An Environmental Sustainability Steering Committee (ESSCOM) was formed as a subcommittee of the University Administrative Committee (UAC). Members of ESSCOM come from all branches of the University with prominent involvement of academic staff. In 2008, a Sustainability Project Manager was hired to help formulate campus sustainability policy, coordinate and lead sustainable efforts, especially campus-wide and student-led activities. Perhaps Environment Weeks in the past few years were the best showcase of this new wave of sustainability efforts. The website recorded Environment Weeks and other sustainability activities; it also serves as a platform of promotion and communication.

Many of us may have this question in our mind, "isn't 'sustainability' just a more catchy word for environmental protection, in other words, just old wine in a new bottle?" The answer actually is both "yes" and "no". Many practices, we sometimes also call green practices, such as energy saving, recycling, etc., are essential, no matter we call them "environmental protection" or "sustainability", and they must continue. However, "sustainability" does encompass some extra perspectives.

The first of these is a global perspective. When one talks about sustainability, it would be inadequate to focus only on our own campus. We must also pay attention to critical global issues such as climate change and its health, ecological and economical impacts; the closely associated carbon emission issue; energy policy; resources conservation; and biodiversity, etc. This naturally leads to an expansion and shifting of focus of campus green efforts. Those operational efforts must go on but, no matter how well we do, the impacts of these are limited to our 60 hectares of campus. In order to address the global sustainability concerns, we must tap into the core business of the University, which is education of our students, generation of knowledge through research, and service to the community. It is only by equipping the students with sustainability vision that we can propagate the idea to the local community and beyond, and hopefully help attain sustainability goals through their collective service to the community. By integrating sustainability into research, we can enable our community and the world to strive for a sustainable future through science, technology and business management advancements. We can also directly involve ourselves in providing sustainability services to the community in various ways.

The implementation of such a grand sustainability vision necessitates a major commitment, and perhaps a paradigm shift of the whole University. With the imminent establishment of a Sustainability Unit in the University to coordinate and lead our efforts in this direction, we are at the verge of culminating this transformation, and we need the whole campus community to commit and take part. So, from Environmental Protection to Sustainability, are you ready to make the change? Are we all ready to make the change?

We hope the answer is a resounding "YES"!