Even though environmental protection is of increasing concern to many members of the public, relatively few are yet aware of the career prospects the sector can offer. Fewer still have a detailed appreciation of the broad scope of the environmental work carried out by the numerous public and private organisations in Hong Kong. This ranges from formulating farsighted business strategies to promoting partnerships between multinationals, and is creating challenging opportunities for people dedicated to making a difference.
Yip Kwong To, strategy development manager for CK Life Sciences Int'l (Holdings) Inc, is a prime example of a professional who has built a successful career in the field. He graduated from the National Taiwan University in 1993 with a major in agricultural economics and joined Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong) the following year to specialise in research into environmental management policies. As the spokesperson for various campaigns, he also established close relationships with the media, academic experts, the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
This exposure paved the way for promotion to the post of assistant director in 1997 and prompted Mr Yip to pursue his interest in research. He obtained a Master of Philosophy in environmental management from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and was subsequently invited to serve as a director for the university's Centre for Environmental Management Protection and Development. This ran in tandem with his time as a member of the Advisory Council on the Environment, which lasted from 1998 until 2001.
I am getting an ever broader perspective on environmental protection, which is one of the rewards of the job
"My cross-border network of contacts with business, academia, the private sector and the environmental communities in Hong Kong and around the world prepared me for my current job, which opened up an entirely new phase of my career," says Mr Yip.
The major duties are to oversee strategy and identify business opportunities for the company's environmental technologies and products. This involves close liaison with NGOs, plus regular meetings with scientists, officials and potential business partners. Together with his colleagues, Mr Yip focuses on anticipating future needs for environmental protection and conduct trials of products with commercial possibilities. He therefore regards it as essential to keep up with market trends, as well as changes in government regulations and any scientific breakthroughs. "As the company is developing business on a global basis, I am getting an ever broader perspective on environmental protection, which is one of the rewards of the job," he notes.
As a worldwide industry, environmental protection is growing rapidly and seeing a burgeoning demand for talent. Those keen to make their mark in the sector require good academic qualifications, which can often mean a Master's degree or PhD in environmental management. Entry-level positions for graduates in Hong Kong can include becoming an officer with the Environment Protection Department, a project officer for an NGO, or a junior consultant with an environmental consultancy firm. All of these are likely to offer comprehensive on-the-job training.
"It is not always easy to, say, introduce new concepts to farmers or other users, so you must have a real passion for the work to overcome the various difficulties," says Mr Yip. "That is the basis for a successful career and it has certainly been beneficial for me to work in an area about which I am passionate."
At present, the industry is facing a number of challenges, not least of which is the need to find solutions more quickly for problems associated with population increase and the depletion of natural resources. "Most industry players are trying to invent new products which can be commercialised," Mr Yip explains. "China, for example, is facing serious pollution problems and urgently needs new specialist advice and technologies."
His recommendation to those planning a career in the sector is to cultivate intellectual curiosity, develop their critical thinking and sharpen communication skills. "Our job is to identify emerging social and environmental challenges and provide solutions, so we must learn to think strategically in order to succeed," he adds.
A central issue for the industry is to advise on win-win solutions which balance economic development and environmental protection. Mr Yip therefore predicts that people with cross-disciplinary knowledge will be much in demand. "Governments and multinationals will need professionals who can calculate the environmental and economic costs of certain policies and practices," he says. "The prospects for such people are excellent."
Mr Yip says that companies in China are actively seeking environmental protection professionals from Hong Kong, who can combine an international perspective with an understanding of the mainland's work practices and culture. "With the advent of CEPA, people from Hong Kong can make a great contribution to China by adapting bio-tech innovations and creating tailor-made applications and consultancy services for local communities," he says.
Anyone equipped with both technical expertise and modern management skills can also look for opportunities with multinational corporations and expect to receive a very attractive remuneration package.