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Colt 499 PWP

Vivian Yan, Author

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But is neon a pollutant...

While visitors to Hong Kong may find neon lights an alluring and indispensable part of the city's personality, many of its residents find them problematic. In 2011, the city received 361 complaints about light pollution, up from just 9 in 2003.1 Electricity consumption between 1997-2006 increased 18 percent, far outpacing the population growth rate of 5.9 percent. In 2013, results from a public opinion poll by the Council for Sustainable Development found that 71 percent of respondents supported turning off lights after-hours.2

Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth (HK) have also increased their efforts to decrease the use of not just neon lights, but bright signage in general. Through numerous editorials and campaigns, such as Dim it Please in 2008, the group has criticized how the city's emphasis on business and tourism have affected the health of its residents and its environment. In May 2013, Chu Hon-keung, senior environmental affairs manager of Friends of the Earth (HK) published an op-ed demanding action against wasteful lighting. He pointed out that several international businesses are responsible for a large amount of light pollution: 

"At [the Apple International Finance Center] store, for example, which closes at 9pm every night, we discovered on multiple occasions that at 2am all the internal shop lighting was still on. This was completely out of tune with the surrounding quiet environment. At its store in Hysan Place (like IFC another building with green awards), Apple's three floors around midnight had spotlights, fluorescent tubes, and literally 500 lamps still on, clearly disturbing the surrounding areas."3

In response to growing concerns, on July 25, 2011 the Hong Kong Environment Bureau established a Task Force on External Lighting, composed of 19 individuals from various sectors, to study problems and potential solutions related to lights and signage. The group was intended to last for just one year, August 1, 2011 to July 31, 2012.4 In January 2012 it released Guidelines on Industry Best Practices for External Lighting (pdf), a series of voluntary suggestions to improve lighting safety and efficiency, and to reduce negative effects of excess light. 

However, the task force has been unable to establish legislation to regulate external lighting due to conflicting interests - and considering the central role that neon has played in and alongside the development of Hong Kong's economy, such a struggle is little surprise. Private businesses have long used lights to distinguish themselves from competitors and to attract customers, while advertisers also use external lighting to ensure their visibility. Outdoor lighting and signage is also extremely important to the tourism industry; not only is lighted signage a signature feature of Hong Kong by day and by night, but attractions such as the "A Symphony of Lights," the largest permanent light show in the world, also depend on light (see the BBC's report on the light show here). With numerous conflicting perspectives, the task force has been extended to continue until July 31, 2013.5 

You can hear clips of interviews with Hong Kong residents and visitors discussing the city's lights here

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