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Friends of the Earth

Residents Struggle With Glare As Light Pollution Spreads To Tseung Kwan O

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Updated on Mar 16, 2009

Light pollution has spread to the outskirts of the city, with hundreds of residents complaining about glare from excessive advertising lighting at a recently renovated shopping mall in Tseung Kwan O.

Residents of Yan Ming Court have been doing everything they can to block the light from the signs on the Metro City shopping mall, which faces the residential block.

Some have been keeping their curtains closed, and one resident has taken the extra step of placing a board next to his bed to block the light that still manages to seep through.

Local politicians and representatives of the green group Friends of the Earth have received numerous complaints since September last year, when the mall placed 12 brightly lit sign boards, each measuring about five storeys, around the mall.

The new fixtures replaced a collection of advertising banners that had been illuminated by spotlights.

When the mall was trying to find clients to rent the boards, the lights were left on until midnight. The mall eventually decided to switch them off at 11pm, but residents still found the glare too bright and wasteful.

“Some of the boards are located in places where few shoppers pass by,” Sai Kung district councillor Ng Ping-yiu said. “No one would ever look up at the boards when they are walking under them. The only audience is the residents who have to live facing them.”

Mr Ng said complaints had been filed with the Environmental Protection Department, though little could be done because there were no laws governing such lighting.

After repeated complaints, Henderson Land Development, which owns the mall, agreed to switch off the boards at 10.30pm. It also said it would consider decreasing the intensity of the light, though no changes have been made.

Mr Ng said he was worried that other malls in the district might adopt the mall’s lighting system as competition for shoppers intensified. He said he was hoping that a system for consultations and stakeholder meetings could be set up so residents and developers would have a chance to talk whenever new signage was being planned.

Cheng Sze-ling, environment affairs officer of Friends of the Earth, said the problem of light pollution was no longer restricted to developed and commercial areas such as Mong Kok or Causeway Bay; it had spread to residential areas in new towns. “Light pollution is no longer endemic but has evolved into an infectious disease across the city,” she said.

The group would organise a seminar for local politicians to help them understand light pollution and ways of handling it, she said. It would also publish a guide on the subject.

In response to press inquiries, a spokeswoman for Henderson Land Development said the company had studied dimming the glare by cutting the number of lights and would follow up on the findings shortly.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said the department had received eight complaints regarding light nuisances relating to Metro City mall. He said officials had been sent to the scene and had spoken to the mall’s owner to minimise nuisances.

“We have encouraged them to adhere to this arrangement and to consider using lamps that were less bright,” he said.

Return Of Diesel Passenger Cars

Dealer sees big problem

Anita Lam and Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Feb 23, 2009

Environmentalists and academics cautiously welcomed the likely return of diesel passenger cars, but a luxury-car dealer said it would be fortunate if his company could find a model that matched the new emissions standard by the end of this year.

Chong Got, managing director of Audi’s distributor, Premium Motors, said Audi’s factory in Europe would produce 20 diesel engine models this year meeting the Euro-V diesel emissions standard. However, they expected only one could meet the emissions standard of a Euro-V petrol car.

“It is not impossible to impose a petrol car’s emission standards on a diesel car. The problem is whether the manufacturers would want to alter the engines for you when their efforts mean only a boost in sales of several hundred more vehicles.”

In September, Volvo said it had created a Euro-V diesel engine as clean as Euro-VI. Bluetec, a green technology for luxury performance vehicles introduced by Mercedes-Benz, meets even the most stringent Californian diesel emissions standard, but the configurations do not match the requirements in Hong Kong.

Crown Motors, the dealer for Daihatsu, Lexus and Toyota, is also searching for qualified models, with a sales manager saying the company would try Europe if it failed to find anything in Japan.

Edward Lau Che-feng, director of Friends of the Earth, said it was time the public and government adopted an open mind towards diesel cars with the latest emissions-control technology. However, the government should increase the phasing out of outdated diesel vehicles at the same time. “Let us be open-minded … we might fine-tune our strategy, giving more weight to a car’s fuel efficiency and climate-friendliness without significantly compromising air quality,” he said.

Dennis Leung Yiu-cheung, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Hong Kong, believed that the most advanced diesel cars would have minimal additional impact on air quality. “There should be little problem, as most private cars are not used as frequently as diesel buses and trucks,” he said.

Dim-it! Friends Want A Clear View Of The Stars

Friends of the Earth wants lights to be switched off on June 21 for stargazers to have a clear view of the star-studded night sky.

Monday, February 16, 2009 – The Standard

Friends of the Earth wants lights to be switched off on June 21 for stargazers to have a clear view of the star-studded night sky. The green group believes there will be 200 buildings on both sides of the harbor taking part in the “Dim-it” campaign from 8pm to 10pm on that summer solstice night.

The group will hold the event with local astronomical groups.

Telescopes will be placed on the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui. Other activities include a photo exhibit of stars, a lighting competition and a show on pollution caused by city lights.

“In the long run, we hope the government can set up protected areas for stargazing in country parks so that people do not have to go to the Science Museum to gaze at artificial stars,” International Year of Astronomy 2009 president Leung Kam-cheung said yesterday.

Leung said the sky in the city is 40 times brighter than the suburbs at night, adding that the city glare hinders stargazing. He said more energy used means more particulates emitted by power generation, which also adversely affects astronomical activity.


Dim It Event Plans Longer City Blackout

Tiffany Lam – SCMP – Updated on Feb 16, 2009

Those who scoff at the idea of spotting constellations from light-washed Victoria Harbour may be proved wrong on the city’s biggest lights-out night in June, a green group said yesterday. Last year’s Dim It campaign, the largest lights-out event in Hong Kong with more than 140 landmark buildings participating, would be repeated with redoubled vigour on June 21, Friends of the Earth said.

Besides stretching the event to two hours, the green group will also invite astronomy clubs to provide telescopes to the public on the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Constellations such as Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius and Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) – usually washed out by the city’s light pollution – were visible from both banks of Victoria Harbour when the lights went off for an hour last year, dimming the harbour by 32 per cent, Friends of the Earth said.

“We estimate that more than 200 buildings will participate this year, and we hope more homes will turn off their lights too,” group director Edwin Lau Che-feng said.

“It’s a great feeling to witness the familiar constellations emerging when you can only see a few stars usually,” Leung Kam-cheung, head of International Year of Astronomy 2009 Hong Kong League, said.

Mr Leung appealed for more enthusiasts to bring out their star-gazing gear on that night to give people a chance to see the stars. The league’s last sidewalk event attracted up to 10,000 star-gazers and more than 80 telescopes, he said.

More lights turned off, for a longer period, should increase the visibility of stars this year, although visibility also depended on air pollution and weather conditions, Mr Lau said.

This year’s Dim It event coincides with the summer solstice, the longest day in the year. “It is a time when energy use peaks, and it gives Hong Kong citizens a time to rethink [their lifestyle],” he said.

He urged the government to speed up light-pollution legislation.

Friends of the Earth urged companies that took part last year, turning off their billboard and building lighting, to do so again and invited more corporations to join this year.

One and Two IFC, Bank of China Tower and the Legislative Council building all participated last year.

The nightly Symphony of Lights show, hailed as the world’s largest by Guinness World Records, will halt for Dim It, said Mr Lau, who described the blackout as an “alternative tourist experience”.

The sidewalk star-gazing event on the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade will be enlivened by photographic exhibitions and live performances, and is expected to draw up to 10,000 people. Dim It will start at 8pm.

Call For TVs To Carry Energy Labels

Green group pushes for flat-screen televisions to show power use by law

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Jan 31, 2009 – SCMP

Flat-screen televisions should carry mandatory energy-efficiency labels, a green group says, as concern grows about how much power the sets use. The call comes as the European Union considers banning plasma television sets that waste energy and requiring other types of sets to carry energy-use ratings.

In the United States, a new standard measuring the power consumption of televisions was introduced in November. Sets are not given an Energy Star label unless they attain prescribed limits.

The US standard was introduced amid rising concern about a surge in power usage as televisions became bigger, with screen sizes up to 70 inches. This is coupled with rising television ownership per household, the introduction of digital broadcasting and changing viewing habits.

In Hong Kong, while televisions consume less electricity than air conditioners and refrigerators, they still accounted for about 5.5 per cent, or 547 gigawatt-hours, of aggregate power use in homes in 2006. They used more power than electric heaters, washing machines, rice cookers and clothes dryers, which accounted for 0.8 to 4.5 per cent, according to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, environmental affairs manager of Friends of the Earth, said televisions should be given priority to carry mandatory energy labels since they had become essential appliances in the home.

“We have seen a growth of household power consumption attributed to different sorts of electronic products at home,” Mr Chu said. “Digital broadcasting has triggered a wave of TV replacements and it is good timing to expand the labelling scope.”

He said the current voluntary energy-efficiency labelling scheme for televisions was insufficient as the products only had to meet minimum standards on standby power mode. Even so, the label’s penetration rate was just 15 per cent, meaning fewer than two out of 10 televisions had been labelled. In shops, picture quality is usually highlighted and little is explicitly stated about power performance.

The city passed a law last year requiring producers and importers of air conditioners, fridges and compact fluorescent light bulbs to report energy usage levels under a mandatory labelling scheme.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said it had yet to decide the coverage of the second batch of products in the scheme. He said the department had noted that some countries were considering plans to restrict the sales of plasma televisions, and it had also been monitoring the development of energy efficiency standards for television sets.

“We will keep a close watch on relevant developments and review the position of Hong Kong, taking into consideration local factors including market demand and availability of substitutes,” he said.

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department also said it was still reviewing the new US standards and corresponding test procedures. It advised consumers to buy lower-wattage sets or ones with smaller screens if they wanted to save energy.

A Little Knowledge Goes A Long Way In Saving Energy

Updated on Jan 31, 2009 – SCMP

Television has long been regarded as something that no home can do without. Yet most people know little of what it costs. It may come as a surprise that TVs add more to Hong Kong’s household electricity bills over a year than any other common appliances except air conditioners and refrigerators.

Environmental activists want consumers to have more information on the energy efficiency of the new generation of larger, flat-screen TV sets. As we report today, the green group Friends of the Earth has called for mandatory energy labelling along the lines of a law passed recently covering air conditioners, refrigerators and compact fluorescent light bulbs. The United States, for example, has adopted a new TV power consumption standard and the European Union is considering tighter regulations, including calls for a ban on plasma TVs, which use more power than liquid crystal displays.

The Environmental Protection Department has yet to decide what else to bring under the new labelling scheme, but environmentalists have a point. Few households have a need for more than one refrigerator, dryer, toaster or rice cooker. What sets TV and peripheral electronic products such as video and game-players apart is the increasing occurrence of multiple sets per household. Without information on energy efficiency, consumers focus on screen size and image resolution, without knowing the energy-cost implications over a long period of time.

TV is not to be compared with power hungry air conditioners or non-stop refrigerators. But every little bit of energy efficiency helps save fuel and combat global warming. And greater awareness would help encourage other good conservation habits, like not leaving the TV on in the background when no one is watching and turning off peripheral equipment such as cable boxes and video game consoles when not in use.

Given the revolution in home entertainment, mandatory energy labelling of TV sets is a good idea. It would enable consumers to make informed choices and protect the environment.

Greens Cite Cancer Risk in Call to Dim Lights

Peter So and Tiffany Lam, SCMP – Updated on Dec 08, 2008

More than 1,300 street lights on residential buildings are a cancer risk for residents, a green group has warned.

Friends of the Earth said it wants the government to speed up efforts to reduce their glare and, while conceding that about 600 of a total of 1,900 lights attached to buildings had been refitted with flat-glass enclosures to reduce glare, the group said that only nine had been fitted with side panels.

The group said there were still many residents suffering disturbed sleep because of inescapable lights illuminating their bedrooms.

A physiologist has said chronic exposure to night light disrupted humans’ biological clocks and damaged their immune systems.

At worst, people suffering chronic exposure were at risk of developing cancers of the breast, gastrointestinal tract, prostate, womb and cervix, Pang Shiu-fun, a retired physiology professor formerly of the University of Hong Kong, has been quoted as saying in medical reports.

According to Highways Department figures, about 1,900 streetlights are fixed to buildings in the city. Of those, about 1,300 are attached to residential blocks, mainly in Wan Chai, Central, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung said the government had promised in September that all offending lights would be refitted within a year.

He said, however, only nine streetlights attached to buildings had been fitted with side panels. “The progress is simply too slow.” Mr Chu wondered why the government had been so slow, as the cost of light refits was minimal.

The green group recently conducted a survey on the impact of streetlights on residents. One respondent surnamed Au-yeung – an elderly man living in Wan Chai with a streetlight fixed outside his flat – said it illuminated his bedroom all night despite thick curtains. Mr Au-yeung said he hardly slept more than four hours a night and often woke up because of the strong light.

“I started with half a pill to put me to sleep. Now I have to have 1-1/2 pills,” Mr Au-yeung said, adding he had once collapsed in his living room after overdosing on sleeping pills and ended up in hospital.

Mr Chu said many residents simply put up with the glare or were confused about to whom to complain, so recorded complaints about street lighting had remained low. He said complaints could be made to the Environmental Protection Department on 2838 3111 or to the Highways Department on 2926 4111.

A Highways Department spokesman said it had received 10 complaints about street lights in the first eight months of this year, adding that the department would assess the 10 lights’ effect on residents. If necessary, it would relocate lights, refit them with complete flat-glass lanterns or install side panels.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director of the green group, urged the government to speed up legislation to regulate light pollution.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said yesterday billboards with unnecessarily bright lights were “a waste”. He said the government had approached businesses about light pollution.

Brand-name Shops Accused Of Light Pollution

SCMP | Updated on Oct 31, 2008

A green group has accused five brand-name shops of excessive use of lighting on their outlets’ exterior walls and in advertising that has caused electric-light pollution in Central. The five shops are Louis Vuitton in The Landmark, H&M in Queen’s Road Central, the flagship shop of Coach in Central, Miu Miu in The Landmark and Dunhill in the Prince’s Building. The group Friends of the Earth patrolled Central at midnight on Wednesday and found the outlets all “glowing”, the group’s environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung said. “We do not object to reasonable commercial lighting but we are against wasteful lighting and light nuisances,” he said. “We oppose the shops’ overemphasis on profit-making at the expense of the environment.”

Hong Kong Night Light Pollution Under The Spotlight

James Pomfret – Reuters | Wed Oct 22, 2008

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong may be known as the Pearl of the Orient for its bright-light, big-city allure, but the ubiquitous practice of keeping neon signs and buildings blazing all night has come under growing fire from green groups.

One of the world’s most densely built-up and populated metropolises, Hong Kong is also one of the most brightly lit.

From bustling streets bathed in an array of neon signs to gargantuan spotlight-strewn advertising hoardings to massed light-specked skyscrapers twinkling off the waters of Victoria harbor at night, the glow over the sleepless city makes it difficult to glimpse stars in the night sky.

In an era of growing green consciousness and global warming fears, environmentalists are increasingly critical of this ostentatious display, calling it as unnecessary and wasteful.

“The trend is getting worse and worse,” said Hahn Chu, the environmental affairs manager for Friends of the Earth: “Hong Kong always thinks the brighter things are, the more prosperous we seem, but people often forget that we’re wasting energy.”

While Hong Kong doesn’t have compulsory measures for lights out, a recent public opinion poll on energy conservation by the Council for Sustainable Development found 71 percent of over 80,000 people backed turning off neon lights in the small hours.

In 2008, the city’s environmental protection department received some 50 complaints about light pollution, up from the 40 cases received in 2007, with neon signs posing a growing nuisance for the public.


A massive neon sign advertising luxury brand Prada was found to be one of the worst offenders in an online poll, spilling intense white light onto a near-deserted Central street until till 5 a.m. every day.

“This is flamboyant wastage and creates light pollution,” one respondent was quoted as saying.

A spokesperson for Prada in Hong Kong said it had noted the concern, was “actively seeking a solution and we will reduce the lighting,” she added without giving specifics.

In an initiative named “Dim It Please,” Friends of the Earth called on retailers and building owners to set a lights-off time after business hours to conserve energy and reduce emissions.

The group says Hong Kong’s electricity consumption grew 18 percent between 1997-2006, outpacing local population growth of 5.9 percent in the same period.

Light pollution however, is by no means unique to Hong Kong.

NASA photographs of global “artificial night sky brightness” display a conspicuous “luminous fog” around much of Western Europe and North America as well much of Japan, Taiwan, while Hong Kong shows up as a bright spot in the southern China region.

Global experts say light pollution has become so pronounced that two thirds of the U.S. population and about half the EU are no longer able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang seems to be seeing the light.

In his annual policy address last week he said the government would “assess the problem of energy wastage of external lighting and study the feasibility of tackling the problem through legislation.”

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by David Fox)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved.

Green Group To Call For Prada Boycott Over Bright Signboards

From Monsters and By DPA – Oct 20, 2008

Hong Kong – A green group will call for a consumer boycott against Prada if the luxury fashion chain fails to dim its illuminated sign boards, a media report said Monday.

Friends of the Earth said the sign board at Prada’s flagship store in the central business district was needlessly illuminated from dusk until dawn, the South China Morning Post reported.

The group’s activists in other cities found that Prada’s Beijing store was lit up until at least 4am, while stores in Singapore and Taipei showed more restraint but the signs were still illuminated until 2:30 am.

Hahn Chu, Friends of the Earth’s environmental affairs manager, said Prada showed ‘no taste at all in this unrestrained quest for brightness. The consequences are a waste of energy and an unnecessary emission of greenhouse gases. If Prada does not stop the light pollution, we will appeal to consumers to boycott it.’

Chu added that a letter has been sent to Prada asking the company to turn off the signs at a reasonable time.

He said: ‘We have also written to two Beijing-based green groups to ask them to follow up the issue there.’

A Prada spokeswoman said the company was considering its options for the Hong Kong shop. ‘The exterior lighting is part of our architecture design and we are reviewing options to reduce the lights,’ she said.