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Far Eastern Group CEO Douglas Hsu

Businesses Can Do More for the Environment

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From planting trees, to riding bicycles, to devotedly saving energy throughout the many enterprises he directs, the Far Eastern Group’s Douglas Hsu has a green side the world rarely sees.

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Businesses Can Do More for the Environment

By Isabella Wu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 369 )

Planting trees has come into fashion as the world braces for the impact of climate warming. Rarely, though, does a person plant trees like the Far Eastern Group's Douglas Hsu.

Upon stepping out of the elevator on the thirty-eighth floor of the Far Eastern Plaza office building, one is immediately struck by the appearance of two thriving, verdant trees stretching upwards towards the skylights. It was Hsu's idea to have this pair of banyan trees planted in a one-ton bed of dirt set in the floor. Parked to the side, three Giant bicycles wait for use by the conglomerate's executives.

We are beginning to catch a glimpse of Hsu's green side.

An airy six-story shopping plaza called The Mall connects the south tower of the Far Eastern Plaza, which houses the headquarters of the Far Eastern Group, with the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in the complex's north tower. Located on Taipei City's Dunhua South Road, this forty-one story building complex provides its visitors with a bright and expansive space. Still, few people are aware that the cool air keeping this Taipei landmark comfortable is supplied entirely by ten cavernous icehouses hidden deep in the building's basement.

Every night at 10:30 when Taiwan Power Co.'s off-peak electricity rates roll around, the Far Eastern Plaza enters its peak ice production period as its ice machines begin to churn out ton upon ton of ice. By the time the off-peak hours have ended at 7:30 the following morning, the Far Eastern Plaza will have managed to amass a stockpile of 1,500 tons of ice.

During the day, air currents carry the cold air of the melting ice throughout every floor of the complex, providing a comfortable environment for the thousands of people using the buildings every day. This approach uses energy efficiently and saves a substantial amount of money. Since off-peak electricity rates are just one-third of those charged during peak hours, the Far Eastern Plaza avoids upwards of NT$2.5 million in electricity bills every year as it forgoes the use of a volume of electricity that would otherwise require the release of 690,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

It's Not Hard to Protect the Environment, the Hard Part Is...

Far Eastern Group chairman and CEO Douglas Hsu, speaking from the perspective of business management, says, “It's not hard for businesses to protect the environment.” Having identified the improvement of the Far Eastern Group's energy efficiency as an important issue, he has set a target of cutting energy use by five percent per year. Companies from across the business group's wide-ranging operations, from financial firms to department stores to cement and shipping enterprises, are all charged with devising strategies that will achieve this goal. The group’s Far Eastern Department Stores have already installed energy-saving lighting and adjusted lighting in public spaces, thereby lowering their annual electricity bills by NT$8.29 million. More innovative approaches are certain to come.

The hard part is that “everyone must have a common idea and the motivation to do it,” says Hsu. This is the only way to bring about significant changes, and it is ultimately the greatest challenge Taiwan faces in confronting global warming and other environmental issues.

When it comes to awareness of energy and climate change in Taiwan, whether within government, the business community or society at large, Taiwan still lags behind other places around the world.

Hsu recently returned from Singapore where he attended the Sea Asia maritime shipping conference. While there, he had a chance to see that not just office and commercial buildings, but even some residential buildings, have been fitted with systems designed to collect rainwater. This water is stored for such uses as watering plants and washing. The interesting thing is that these systems were not adopted in response to directives handed down by Singapore's government, but rather due to an environmental consciousness among the Singaporean public. Architects there design buildings with environmental features and the public shows a preference for such buildings. In Singapore, a force for change has emerged naturally.

A Call from the Minister

Taiwan faces a shortage of water as well. Regardless, a similar awareness has yet to develop in Taiwan, nor has any such consciousness been taken to the level of action.

Hsu's idea to turn the Far Eastern Plaza into an “icehouse” came in response to a phone call from former minister of economic affairs Chao Yao-tung over a decade ago. As the complex was already nearing completion, Chao reminded Hsu that, with two towers rising to a height of forty-one stories and five levels below ground, the massive complex would be strapped with considerable electricity bills, and that Hsu needed to deal with this reality as soon as possible.

Having been made aware of the exorbitant cost of the electricity that would be needed to power the complex, Hsu immediately gained a consciousness of energy use. Pressed for time, Hsu decided to convert to the ice-storage air-conditioning system after quickly seeking overseas consultation. In the end, the complex's underground parking garage was reduced in size to make room for the system. “If we had had this idea in the beginning we could have integrated it into the design,” says Hsu, who clearly learned a lesson from this experience.

Now, anytime Hsu is presented with a new plan or design, the first question he asks concerns energy use. He even scrutinizes such seemingly minor issues as the Christmas lights used to decorate the Far Eastern Plaza. In this case, Hsu adopted the use of energy-efficient LED Christmas lights, thereby cutting the cost of the power for this display to just twenty percent of its original cost.

Hsu refers to himself as a “missionary,” due to his endless devotion to preaching the importance of environmental protection and energy conservation to his executives and other personnel. They have gradually come to internalize Hsu's environmental awareness. However, Hsu's chief motivation here comes not from a desire to save money, but rather in response to the severe environmental damage that industry and commerce inflict upon the Earth. Hsu believes that businesses must reconsider how to go about coexisting with the environment.

Businesses Should Do More

Granted, it would be impossible for businesses to not produce anything or influence the environment. Still, those that embrace environmental awareness will undergo corresponding changes in their strategies, implementation, supervision and management. This is the greatest motivational force behind the decision of the Far Eastern Group to “go green,” especially for such business units as Asia Cement and Far Eastern Textile, two of the group's enterprises that have a more severe impact on the environment. These companies have already adopted environmental awareness as an essential element of their operations and innovations.

Corn is an increasingly popular commodity these days. Concerned about the problem of its reliance on non-biodegradable raw chemical materials, Far Eastern Textile has invested in research and development aimed at using corn to produce polylactic acid fiber. After use, this fiber will biodegrade completely in soil or the sea. The textile maker is one of the few Taiwanese companies to throw itself into R&D in this area. The problem now, however, is that the current cost prohibits bringing this new technology to mass production.

Asia Cement has racked up some achievements that have left people awestruck as well.

The process of producing cement, from extraction to production to shipping, takes a heavy toll on the environment. Frequently, cement companies leave white, denuded hillsides after they have taken what they have come for.

Asia Cement, in addition to reducing its use of thermal energy and electric power, has employed a more environmentally friendly staircase method of cement extraction at its Hualien plant. This approach means that after completing its extraction work on one step of a mountainside, the company then replants it with trees before moving on to the next step. Asia Cement has already planted over 50,000 native trees at its Sincheng Mountain quarry area. As a result, it has discovered evidence that cobras, wild boars, and Formosan macaques have begun to reestablish habitats in the restored area. That is not all. The cement company has even turned the landscaped areas of its factory zone in Hualien into a habitat for butterflies, a move that has facilitated a recovery of the endangered Hengchun birdwing butterfly.

Replanting Trees after Extraction

“Seeing an ecology that has suffered extraction recover in this fashion makes me all the more happy,” says Niven Huang, secretary-general of the Business Council for Sustainable Development. Born and raised in Hualien, Huang feels especially impressed to see a business take a different road that works to balance development with environmental concerns.

“Environmental protection is not intended to keep people from doing anything at all,” asserts Hsu, adding, “When a leader realizes the impact his policies have on the environment, he will come up with different policies.” The thing is that in the past, discussions of environmental issues, whether initiated by environmental protection organizations, businesses or the government, were never sufficiently comprehensive, and even stifled innovation.

“Taiwan should be able to do better,” believes Hsu, though he concedes, “It's just that it lacks commitment, targets, direction, and strategies.”

Taiwan can boast of its annual per-capita income of US$15,000, high levels of education, talent, and technological prowess. Nonetheless, possessed of these advantages, it would truly be a shame if in the future, Taiwan were to fail to make itself more beautiful.

Translated from the Chinese by Stan Blewett


Chinese Version: 環保,企業可以做更多

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