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Hong Kong hotel with four major green building awards breaks smoking rules set by US body

The Post’s reporters find outdoor smoking permitted at restaurant in Holiday Inn Express Hong Kong SoHo despite smoke-free policy

A hotel which prided itself for winning four top green building awards worldwide for its designs and facilities was found by the South China Morning Post to have breached for years the tobacco smoke control requirement imposed by the United States Green Building Council.

Concerns were raised about the risk of proprietors turning green buildings into “non-green” ones if they failed to monitor their tenants for enforcement of green measures or best practices.

The Post’ s investigation found that Moon Thai Restaurant, on the second floor of the Holiday Inn Express Hong Kong SoHo in Sheung Wan, had allowed smoking at its outdoor terrace since the hotel was launched in late 2013.

The hotel is owned by Yau Lee Holdings, the vice-chairman of which is Conrad Wong Tin-cheung, who just stepped down as chairman of the Hong Kong Green Building Council at the end of last year.

The terrace of the restaurant is part of the hotel building and is divided by a sliding door, which was kept open very often when waiters and waitresses had to serve meals for customers at the outdoor terrace, causing second-hand smoke from customers smoking outdoors to drift inside, the Post observed.

The hotel was deemed a role model for green buildings as it had won four highest-rated green building awards worldwide, including a LEED Platinum from the US Green Building Council, a BEAM Plus Platinum award from the Hong Kong Green Building Council, BCA Green Mark from Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority and Green Building Design Label (3-Star) from the China Green Building Council.

However, the US Green Building Council website’s section on LEED criteria states that smoking is prohibited inside and outside the building except in designated smoking areas located at least 25 feet (7.6 meters) from all entrances, outdoor air intakes and operable windows. Smoking is also prohibited outside the property line in spaces used for business purposes.

The Post’s reporters visited the restaurant in November and December last year and sat in the terrace. A waiter automatically handed us an ashtray and said “certainly” when asked if smoking was allowed. Some customers were also found smoking on the terrace. A waiter told the Post that the restaurant allowed outdoor smoking all along.

In response to the Post’s enquiries, the hotel’s general manager Kaivin Ng said the restaurant was operated by a tenant, rather than “directly by the hotel”, but that “they are well aware of our green building status”.

Ng insisted they had adhered strictly to a full non-smoking policy, adding that they would investigate the matter seriously and would keep reminding the tenant of the hotel’s policy for a smoke-free environment.

The restaurant’s spokesman Mr Lo told the Post that as far as he knew, the hotel had failed to indicate its full non-smoking policy in its contract with the restaurant.

Its manager Mr Fan said the restaurant had started to adopt a smoking ban on the outdoor terrace.

World Wildlife Fund assistant manager Prentice Koo Wai-muk said the hotel should make every effort to ensure its tenants complied with its green policy.

“The hotel has absolute responsibility to make sure its tenants enforce its green measures and uphold best practices. It should stipulate this as a term in its contract with its tenants,” he said.

“Green building assessments deal only with the hardware of the buildings, their design and facilities. But it needs good management to keep the hardware green and sustainable, and to achieve the desired effects of green buildings.

“This showcases that without proper green management to ensure the enforcement of supporting measures, green buildings can no longer be green,” he added.

The hotel’s general manager Kaivin Ng said the restaurant was operated by a tenant, not directly by the hotel. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The hotel’s general manager Kaivin Ng said the restaurant was operated by a tenant, not directly by the hotel. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Conrad Wong, the then outgoing HKGBC chairman, did not reply to the Post’s enquiries. A HKGBC spokeswoman, however, said the BEAM Plus Platinum rating the hotel obtained was under the assessment of the new buildings category for the project’s “as built” condition in 2012.

“It does not, however, cover ongoing property management and operations by building owners and tenants such as the ‘smoking policy’ for the building,” she said.

Koo believed the city’s BEAM Plus assessment scheme should learn from the LEED assessment by including the tobacco smoke control requirement.

USGBC has not replied to the Post’s written enquiries made over a month ago.

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