Hive Life sat down with Melanie Kwok, Sino Group’s Senior Manager of Sustainability and Edmond Leung, the Co-founder of Smiley Planet about the Group’s green urban farm initiative, Farm Together.
As Sino Group celebrates their 50th anniversary in 2021, the Group continues to work towards their sustainability goals, both on the corporate and community level. With ten urban farms spread across Hong Kong and as one of the city’s leading property developers, Sino Group is exemplary in its commitment to the environment and implementing green initiatives throughout their portfolio.
Holistically intertwined with Sino Group’s sustainability goals, the Farm Together programme is an integrated green community project that advocates green living and wellness through a variety of sustainability-inspired initiatives. The urban farms include the Sky Farm at Skyline Tower, the 148 Farm at 148 Electric Road, four farms at Hong Kong Gold Coast, the Orchid Farm at Pacific Palisades, the Country Club Farm at Grand Central, the Butterfly Garden at Yue Man Square, the Green House at TMT Plaza, and the Fullerton Farm at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore.
Melanie Kwok, the Senior Manager of Sustainability at Sino Group and Sustainability Mentor at Cambridge University, and Edmond Leung, the Co-founder of Smiley Planet spoke to us about Farm Together, urban farming, Sino Group’s sustainability initiatives, eco-friendly living in Hong Kong, and Farm Together’s bright future.
Melanie Kwok, the Senior Manager of Sustainability at Sino Group and Edmond Leung, the Co-founder of Smiley Planet
Over ten years ago, Sino Group began their urban farming journey with their first farm on Skyline Tower, through the ‘Mission Green Top’ programme. Joining hands with the Hong Chi Association they created a green space for people with intellectual disabilities and members to relax and learn about farming.
The Group’s next milestone was their collaboration with Smiley Planet at the Hong Kong Gold Coast Hotel, the first hotel in Hong Kong to operate an organic farm, where the Farm Together project began and Melanie and Edmond first met. “That’s how I [had] the privilege to witness this whole transformation with the wonderful help and support from Edmond to make it even better to what it is nowadays,” Melanie shared.
There was a farm already built by the Hong Chi Association in 2013, but it was still more of a green space for hotel guests to enjoy rather than a total farming concept. In 2018, Sino Group had the idea to create a “green journey” at their Hong Kong Gold Coast Hotel, offering a complete environmental management experience. This included Hong Kong’s first upcycling room, and the introduction of more green and wellness activities. Naturally, it was important to improve the farm and transform it into an educational experience.
Gold Coast Farm
Edmond at the time, had been working on a different project in Causeway Bay, hosting workshops for parents and children on a rooftop farm to grow plants together. The Sino team had the opportunity to meet Edmond there, and invited him to come to Gold Coast to take a look at their farm. The Group brought on Edmond’s expertise soon after, where he simultaneously began working on the Gold Coast farm and renovating the Sky Farm.
Edmond performs feasibility studies for locations to see if they are suitable for urban farms, for example assessing if there is enough sunlight, if they are too windy, or if there is sufficient rain, as well as planning its layout. Following this assessment, he will begin construction, and will offer assistance managing and growing the farm.
As one of the key members in driving the Group’s sustainability initiatives, Melanie ensures smooth operations of all of the farms and to make sure they align with the Group’s sustainability visions. She works to spread a positive environmental education message to colleagues, tenants, stakeholders, and customers.
When Melanie started her postgraduate studies at Cambridge University, sustainability still was not a popular topic. Today, she is thrilled to learn that Sustainability and Environmental Science have become one of the most popular academic subjects in universities globally, especially that youngsters are very engaged in sustainability.
“From a hotel or business point of view, we see that because people are not able to travel, staycation demand has been high. At Gold Coast during the summer holidays, people have been asking us whether they can join farm tours and some hiking tours. So I think the demand for green wellness is growing,” added Melanie.
Sustainability had been ingrained in Edmond since his childhood, growing up with working class parents, this meant not wasting anything and saving up resources. Edmond had always been interested in growing seeds as well, but did not discover agriculture fully until he went to study at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and spent a summer interning on their farm and learned about how to choose your seeds, germination, farm irrigation, and composting. When he came back to Hong Kong he entered into investment banking, eventually moving to work at automating his father’s business.
Eventually, Edmond discovered leisure farms and took a course with SEED and in 2012 started his own restaurant, BIJAS Vegetarian, at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) along with an urban farm, encouraging students to bring their own harvests from the farm back to the restaurant to be cooked for free. BIJAS also has a social initiative and hires people in need to work at the restaurant.
“I think the general public in Hong Kong is pretty much ready to go green, they are just waiting for opportunities to present themselves. During the pandemic especially, a lot of people are looking for reusable masks; the demands are running so high that people can’t keep up with supplying them. People have such a high demand for greenness in the city, but I believe they’re also ready for greenness in the heart,” Edmond added.
In founding Smiley Planet, Edmond also created their green public project “GO CUP,” a sustainability initiative in collaboration with Standard Chartered Bank to encourage restaurants and people in Hong Kong to use reusable cups. This initiative helped to take off Hong Kong’s single use reduction scheme and the city’s larger current environmental initiatives.
Gold Coast Farm
“I want to plant a seed in the soil, but also want to plant a seed of green into your mind, so it grows and then you can start planting seeds in other people,” Edmond said.
Developers now are maximising green development, so people can live in an urban oasis. “For us it’s about striking the balance between greenery and property development,” Melanie said.
Organic farming can be very competitive with traditional farming, being able to grow produce that is twice as big but more nutritious. During the pandemic everyone was looking for opportunities to go outdoors to get out there and have some fun, even in the middle of summer, you would see people flocking to these holiday farms.
Gold Coast Fun Farm
Melanie said, “I think compared to 15 years ago, corporates are doing more in sustainability, and it has become key for business operations. I think that creates a lot of opportunities for youngsters to develop their skills. With the Covid-19 situation and global warming, the message is that we share the planet together, and should join hands in mitigating climate change through decarbonisation. Let’s continue to do our parts to contribute to a more sustainable future.”
At Sino Group, sustainability is integrated in their operations, working towards the vision of “creating better lifescapes,” through three sustainability pillars: Green Living, Innovative Design, and Community Spirit. Farm Together is a good example of how these three pillars can be integrated together, and on a larger scale, Grand Central in Kwun Tong also demonstrates these initiatives. The Group also takes ESG as an important Governance throughout their company, developing 16 ESG guidelines and policies, including their Climate Change Policy and Biodiversity Policy.
They also set their Sino Group sustainability vision for 2030, where the Group is targeting to cut their carbon emissions by 30%, and is one of the first five Asian real estate developers working to go carbon net zero by 2050. They also aim to certify all new developments as US WELL buildings, which ties in with Farm Together, because The Group aims to create buildings that have the best green and wellness spaces for colleagues, tenants, residents, and visitors.
The Group is looking into other projects, and is already now hosting a farm in Singapore, and working to expand their Farm Together footprint- five new farms are expected in Hong Kong. The Group will be opening The Fullerton Ocean Park Hotel Hong Kong in the first half of 2022, creating a sustainable resort in Hong Kong, with a focus on integrated green wellness.
Farm Together will also be working on innovative technology development with Sky Farm to monitor the weather. Edmond, who is passionate about weather tracking himself, is leading efforts to install a weather monitoring station on the farm. Through data collection and analysis, they will be able to optimise which crops to grow at what time of the year.
Sky Farm at Skyline Tower