Hong Kong may be crowded, but it's remarkably clean compared to many other major Asian cities. That said, Hong Kong's most pressing environmental concern is air pollution, which has gotten progressively worse over the years, fueled largely by factories just over the border in mainland China and local vehicular traffic. In fact, pollution is sometimes so bad, that even a cloudless day can't guarantee that views will be good from atop Victoria Peak. The euphemism used in weather reports is "haziness." To learn more about grassroots efforts to improve the air, check out the websites www.cleartheair.org.hk and www.hongkongcan.org.
In any case, to ensure that you're not contributing to the global problem, try to choose a nonstop flight to Hong Kong, since it generally requires less fuel than an indirect flight that stops and takes off again. Try to fly during the day -- some scientists estimate that nighttime flights are twice as harmful to the environment. And pack light -- each 15 pounds of luggage on a 5,000-mile flight adds up to 50 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted.
In Hong Kong, use public transport where possible -- Hong Kong's trains, trams, buses, and ferries are more energy-efficient forms of transport than taxis. Even better is to walk; you'll produce zero emissions and stay fit and healthy.
Where you stay during your travels can also have a major environmental impact. To determine the green credentials of a property, ask about trash disposal and recycling, water conservation, and energy use; also question if sustainable materials were used in the construction of the property. Luckily, Hong Kong hotels are becoming increasingly environmentally aware. The InterContinental Grand Stanford, for example, has been a pioneer in green management practices; in 2007 it became the first hotel in Hong Kong to install a more efficient and environmentally friendly new hybrid fuel system for hot water and steam that reduces temperatures around the hotel and is equivalent to taking 70 cars a year off the road. The Eaton Hotel not only employs a full-time environmental manager responsible for monitoring environmental and social performance, but also has an in-house green team, recycles everything from plastic bottles and aluminum to office paper, and provides staff community service (it even used old banquet tablecloths to make restaurant place mats). Finally, to do your part, request that your sheets and towels not be changed daily. (Many hotels already have programs like this in place.) Turn off the lights and air-conditioner when you leave your room.
As for dining, try to eat at locally owned and operated restaurants that use produce grown in the area, like Posto Pubblico. This contributes to the local economy and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions by supporting restaurants where the food is not flown or trucked in across long distances. You might also want to patronize restaurants that donate leftover food to food pantries, such as Pret A Manger and restaurants in the Eaton Hotel. And when shopping, keep in mind that you'll pay HK10¢ for each plastic bag you need at supermarkets, convenience stores, and health and beauty stores; to cut down on unnecessary plastic and to save a little money, bring your own bag.
Volunteer travel has become increasingly popular among those who want to venture beyond the standard group-tour experience to learn languages, interact with locals, and make a positive difference while on vacation. The Hong Kong YWCA, 1 MacDonnell Rd., Central (tel. 852/3476 1340; www.esmdywca.org.hk), serves as a local clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities under its "News & Events" button. Although directed toward local residents, some of the volunteer opportunities are short term. The website also offers a variety of courses, including classes for Cantonese, Mandarin, and cooking, open to both YWCA members and nonmembers.
Sustainable tourism is conscientious travel. It means being careful with the environments you explore and respecting the communities you visit. To participate in ethical tourism at a local level, your best bet in Hong Kong is in the village of Tai O on Lantau Island.
Resources for Responsible Travel
In addition to the resources for Hong Kong listed above, the following websites provide valuable wide-ranging information on sustainable travel.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.