Promoting Energy Conservation and Efficiency through Education in Hong Kong

By Samuel Joseph Craig

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background

3. Non-formal Education

4. Formal Education

5. Consensus, Challenges, and Limitations

6. Conclusion

7. References

8. Notes

9. Appendix

10. About the Author

1. Introduction

It is estimated that 53 percent of the world’s population currently live in cities, and according to the United Nations it will be 66 percent by 2050 (UN, 2014). One of the biggest economic and environmental challenges that cities face now and in the future is and will be energy consumption. Energy consumption in Hong Kong and around the world is set to increase in alignment with population. With an increase in energy consumption comes an increase in pollution and a greater risk to the world’s changing climate (see Appendix Figure 1). The need for energy conservation and efficiency is urgent.

This entry focuses on past, present, and future formal and non-formal education strategies which attempt to address the issue of energy consumption in Hong Kong through energy conservation and efficiency. There are three sections. The first section presents Hong Kong’s unique context and background as it relates to energy consumption. The second describes the earlier, current, and future direction of non-formal and formal education. Finally, the third section discusses the consensus, challenges, and limitations of these strategies.

2. Background

Hong Kong has a unique cultural, economic, social, and environmental context, which affects the way in which it consumes energy. It is one of the most densely populated places on earth, has long, hot and humid summers, a high performing, international, capitalist economy, and its technologically literate population of 7.2 million mostly live and work in high rise buildings (Environment Bureau, 2015d). Hong Kong people enjoy reliable urban infrastructure, technological innovation, and a high quality public transport system, which has resulted in them consumption of moderately less energy per capita in comparison to other economically developed places around the world (Wong, 2011; World Bank, 2015; EB, 2015a, pp. 6-7; see Figure 2).

Figure 2    Electric power consumption in Hong Kong (OECD/IAE 2014)

Figure 2 Electric power consumption in Hong Kong (OECD/IAE 2014)

In fact, Hong Kong has the lowest energy intensity[1] index of all Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and European Union member states (see Figure 3).

Figure 3    Energy intensity ranking (APEC Energy Statistics 2012)

Figure 3 Energy intensity ranking (APEC Energy Statistics 2012)

However, in order to cope with the challenges of limited resources and space, Hong Kong relies on a diverse mix of mostly imported fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. Power plants emit over 70 percent of greenhouse gases in Hong Kong. 89 percent of the total energy consumed in Hong Kong is by buildings, residential and commercial. The majority of that energy is used for air conditioning and lighting, which causes endemic pollution in the environment (EB, 2015a, 2015d).

Since most of the energy consumed in Hong Kong is by residential and commercial buildings, the responsibility of energy conservation and efficiency has fallen on the entire community. In order to do its part for the global environment and to improve energy safety, security, affordability, and reliability, the Hong Kong government is encouraging Hong Kong people to become more “energy aware” and “energy wise”. It has identified energy conservation and efficiency through formal and non-formal education to be an effective and successful strategy to meet its energy intensity reduction target of 40 percent by 2020 on 2005 levels and one that needs expanding and developing (EB, 2015d).  In order to tackle pressing environmental problems, Hong Kong has implemented non-formal and formal education strategies since the early 1990s. There is an exhaustive list of formal and non-formal education strategies that have been implemented by the government, community, and non-governmental organisations. This entry will only refer to those which have made the most lasting impact on energy conservation and efficiency.

3. Non-Formal Education

Non-formal education in energy conservation and efficiency has mostly been promoted by collaborative government initiatives with community and school support. At the beginning of the 1990s, public education and social mobilisation strategies were very much seen as non-formal grassroots movements. In 1990, for example, the community based Environmental Campaign Committee (ECC) was established to engage the community through publicity and educational programmes to ‘promote public awareness of environmental issues and to encourage the public to actively contribute to a better environment’ (ECC, 2012a). It has since created numerous non-formal education programmes such as roving exhibitions, seminars on global warming and climate change, drama performances about green lifestyles, and a book series on low carbon living (ECC, 2012b).   

In the mid-1990s to early 2000s, environmental strategies started to shift to schools in an effort to engage young people in sustainable development and environmental citizenship (Tsang & Lee, 2014). Set-up in 1995, the Student Environmental Protection Ambassador Scheme (SEPAS) is designed to promote and support government and community initiatives, to enhance environmental awareness and to develop a sense of responsibility among young people. It is supported by the government run Environmental Protection Department (Environmental Protection Department, 2005a). It has organised many energy conservation and efficiency activities such as camps, exhibitions, trainings, and dramas. In 2006, SEPAS collaborated with the community for the Action Blue Sky Campaign in order to reduce pollution by setting air conditioners to an optimum temperature and encouraging the use of energy saving appliances. The subsequent success of this campaign has led to a continuing effort to promote and provide information about how to conduct these practices via government run websites (GovHK, 2015). By 2007, 805 Hong Kong schools were participating in SEPAS (EPD, 2007)

Another major breakthrough for energy conservation and efficiency practice in schools came in 1999 through the Green School Award (GSA) for pre-schools and primary and secondary schools organised by the Environmental Campaign Committee in collaboration with the then Education and Manpower Bureau. The GSA encourages schools to create environmental policies and environmental management plans to enhance environmental awareness and develop environmentally friendly attitudes among school managers, teachers, non-teaching staff, students, and parents (ECC, 2012c). Schools in Hong Kong would receive an award if they measured up to energy saving standards set by the Hong Kong Green Building Council.

Aside from school and community initiatives, more recently, with the prevalence of and accessibility to modern technology and the internet, Hong Kong government departments have set up websites for public education and social mobilisation purposes. One example is the Energy Saving for All website which notifies the public of campaigns, competitions, and awards such as the Solar Car Competition and Youth Energy Award. This promotes student-centred learning and the development of skills. The comprehensive website has valuable information about energy conservation and efficiency practices where the public can learn how to take individualised steps to lead a “greener life” (EB, 2015b).

4. Formal Education

Formal education approaches to energy conservation and efficiency have not been as long established or as extensive as non-formal education approaches. In Hong Kong, environmental studies/science has never been studied as a formal subject in primary or secondary schools and as a result has always existed on the margins (Tsang & Lee, 2014). Over recent years however, despite a demanding curriculum, it has experienced some development.

In 1992, the Curriculum Development Council (CDC) published the non-mandatory “Guidelines on Environmental Education (EE) in Schools” which aimed at producing lifelong learning, promoting energy conservation and efficiency practices and concern for the environment through a cross-curricula approach. In 1996/97, General Studies, which included EE, was introduced into primary schools, and in secondary schools EE was incorporated across the curriculum into science subjects, geography, and Liberal Studies (EPD, 2005b). In 2009, with the introduction of the New Secondary School Curriculum (NSSC), environmental education was formally included as a core subject within Liberal Studies. Along with this formal education approach, non-formal approaches as part of the NSSC included project learning and life education (Tsang & Lee, 2014).  In 2013, there were further developments in the Liberal Studies curriculum which included a module, “Energy technology and the environment.” This module explored ‘how the applications of energy and technology improve people’s quality of life and impact the environment.’  For energy conservation and efficiency in particular, teachers are encouraged to explore global solutions to sustainable development with their students by, for example, investigating bicycle transport in various cities in Europe and Japan and deciding whether it is feasible to practice similar energy conservation and clean air practices in Hong Kong (CDC, 2013).

In addition to the Liberal Studies curriculum, the Hong Kong government stated in its Energy Saving Plan (ESP), released in 2015, that it intends to ‘update schools and public education programmes’ (EB, 2015d, p. 6). However, as of November 2015, what those plans will entail has not been released to the public.

5. Consensus, Challenges, and Limitations

As Hong Kong people become more environmentally aware and responsible, their attitudes towards education for sustainable development have shifted over the years from community grass roots approaches to a demand for top-down, government led initiatives. A public consultation in 2007-2008 ‘indicated that Hong Kong people have high aspirations to achieve higher energy efficiency’ (Wong, 2011, p. 220). Additionally, in 2009, a public opinion survey carried out by Hong Kong Baptist University showed that there was a consensus and willingness to save energy. In 2015 with the release of the Energy Saving Plan (ESP) document, the Secretary of the Environment, K.S. Wong, exclaimed that ‘over 13,000 Hong Kong people responded to the Public Consultation on the Future Development of the Electricity Market document.’ Also, they noted a clear consensus from stakeholders, non-governmental organisations and the public for DSM (demand-side management) measures like energy conservation and efficiency to be taken into account for the period from 2015-2020.  

On the other hand, the HKBU survey also discovered that Hong Kong people were pragmatic when it came to energy conservation and efficiency and that they prioritised materialistic lifestyles: ‘the dominant value of Hong Kongers is the pursuit of economic return’ (Wong, 2011, p. 214). Whether Hong Kong people wish to genuinely conserve energy and be efficient because of environmental concerns or whether a desire to save money is the driving motivator is in dispute. Perhaps more exploration around attitudes such as these could inform later policy. Clearly more research as to Hong Kong people’s motives for energy saving is needed.

An alternative view to the evidence for general consensus in energy conservation and efficiency is found by Alice (2004) who claimed that ‘most students exhibit low levels of interest in “green behaviour” and participating in voluntary environmental activities’ (Tsang & Lee, 2014, p. 210). This implies not necessarily a lack of consensus but rather a feeling of apathy, and is especially challenging to non-formal education campaigns which rely on enthusiasm from participants. Tsang and Lee (2014) also cite further in the education sector when initiating ESD in Hong Kong such as insufficient support for teachers, inadequate teacher training, a lack of resources and funding, and preparation time. Another challenge for the education sector, especially in regard to formal education, is cultural and societal. According to White (2013), Confucian Hong Kong’s societal preferences for education are based on exam preparation and there is pressure on students to gain top exam results. Therefore, if ESD topics are not featured in examinations, there will be little incentive for Hong Kong students to fully engage in learning and to retain the material.

Another issue is language. Accessible online material regarding EE/ESD is not always congruent with all audiences in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an ethnically diverse city with literate and educated people who speak, read and write in a variety of languages. Publicity campaigns, leaflets, education packages, and teaching resources are usually distributed in either Chinese or English. A prime example is the Chinese teaching kits in the secondary school physics curriculum (EE, n.d.), which would be quite useless to students who only read English. Energy conservation and efficiency concerns all stakeholders in Hong Kong and without access to knowledge regarding these strategies their effectiveness comes under scrutiny.

6. Conclusion

Hong Kong has a range of measures for implementing energy conservation and efficiency practices and is making a good attempt to capture the public’s attention through public education and social mobilisation in order to become energy aware and wise. However, realistically and pragmatically Hong Kong people lean culturally towards a materialistic view of life which inhibits their action to live green lifestyles. As a result, it is difficult to conclude whether formal and non-formal education strategies over the past two and a half decades have been responsible for a greater effort from Hong Kong people to live greener lifestyles. Is it due to a realisation of money savings or genuine environmental concerns?

Some formal and non-formal education strategies are limited in their effectiveness. They rely on the enthusiasm of the participants, the inclusion of ESD in the examination system, and teacher training. Additionally, as Hong Kong people become more globally aware to the challenges of climate change and dwindling energy supplies, consensus indicates that they would like to see more renewable energy deployed in Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong’s limited space and existing energy supply contracts are a hindrance to progress (EB, 2015a). Hong Kong will become more energy conservative and efficient in the long term; however, that may be too late. Looking to the future, hopefully the strategies employed by Hong Kong in becoming more energy conservative and efficient will have a positive effect on other places around the world with similar cultural, economic, social, and environmental contexts.   


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[1] “The energy intensity of an economy (energy demand per unit of economic output) is a measure of the amount of energy it takes to produce a dollar’s worth of economic output.” (EB, 2015d)


Figure 1    Population increase vs per capita electricity consumption in Hong Kong, 1990-2012 (C&S)

Figure 1 Population increase vs per capita electricity consumption in Hong Kong, 1990-2012 (C&S)


About the Author

Samuel Joseph Craig

MEd, The University of Hong Kong