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Eco-ninja Craig Leeson's Guide to a Sustainable Stay in Hong Kong

July 19, 2018

Journalist, filmmaker and environmentalist Craig Leeson’s award-winning documentary, A Plastic Ocean, is unquestionably responsible for bringing the fight to eradicate single-use plastics to the forefront of global consciousness – but it isn’t just plastic pollution in his sights. 

The Hong Kong-based Australian is on a mission, with climate change through glacial decline and corrupt international adoption rackets also due for his gimlet-eyed review in forthcoming projects. Needless to say, this passionate crusader, who's also the global evangelist for the Plastic Oceans Foundation, supports local brands and businesses that share his philosophy. Here's Craig's guide to experiencing Hong Kong in a more sustainable way.


Where do you eat and drink in Hong Kong? 


Firstly, any restaurant operated by Maximal Concepts. Their venues are 99% plastic free, and always looking to use the most sustainable products. The company founders, Malcolm Wood and Matt Reid, have a deep desire to make change within the industry, and they do so via their business policies and monthly ‘Influencer Series’ seminars, held in their venues to tackle environmental and industry issues head on. My favourite Maximal restaurant is Mott32, while Brickhouse has a great party vibe, and Stockton is my favourite bar in the world, not least for its second-to-none cocktails.

For lunch, you can’t beat Grassroots Pantry. Chef Peggy Chan is passionate about the environment and eating well for a sustainable living. Her food is outrageously good and well priced, plus the mostly organically-sourced menu caters to all sorts from vegan to Buddhist-friendly. It would be remiss not to mention the man who began the sustainable restaurant push in Hong Kong – Bobsy Gaia. I was a regular at his vegetarian restaurant Life and 360 supermarket, though sadly both are gone now. But MANA! has taken Life’s place and I reckon I have chewed through more than a thousand of the cafe’s specialty wraps.

Hemingway's at Discovery Bay and Castelo Concepts restaurants (Wagyu / Oolaa) also deserve recognition for their environmental advocacy and willingness to shift policies to the more sustainable.



Where should sustainably-minded visitors drop their bags?


When I stay in hotels my first duty on check-in, if I haven’t done it by phone, is to speak to the manager and request no single-use plastic products in my room during my stay. After conversations about this with Landmark Mandarin Oriental General Manager, Archie Keswick, I was elated when he told me the iconic hotel was going single-use plastic free from May (2018). It was a bold and brave move for such a well-known global brand, and it sends a signal to other luxury hotels in the industry: it’s time to change – your customers not only demand it, they will respect you for it.


Read more: Hong Kong's Best Hikes


How can visitors enjoy Hong Kong while being environmentally conscious?


Activity-wise, my favourite place to be at any time is in the water, and there isn’t a better weekend than hiking through the Sai Kung Country Park, setting up camp on the beach at Tai Long Wan, surfing all day and then watching the sun set with Sharp Peak behind you. There are few places in the world where you can do this just 40 minutes drive from a major city. Take your solar bbq and your solar panels to power your music box and electronic devices. Take a bottle of red wine, and your steel reusable water container. And if you see plastic on the beach, take the time to pick it up and carry it out with you. It will make you feel good because you are doing something to help future generations and other species.

Canyoning is also a great way to see places in Hong Kong that you never thought existed. There are dozens of water falls, valleys, river canyons and coastal cliffs and caves to be explored on the weekends. Roland Sharman of HKOutsider has this wired, and each weekend he takes groups out searching for new locations and new challenges. It’s an inexpensive way of feeling like you’ve escaped Hong Kong for the weekend, it puts you back into nature and makes you feel good, and the exercise will make you wake up the next morning feeling alive. 

If you’re keen to charter a boat, Eric Noyel of Asiamarine is a committed oceans devotee and gives back to the element that sustains him and his business by keeping single-use plastic products off his charter boats in Hong Kong and encouraging his clients to #rethinkplastic. He runs a tight ship (pun intended) and donates 10% of every charter in Hong Kong to the Plastic Oceans Foundation. It’s the perfect way to enjoy one of the best boating regions on the planet and give back to Planet Earth.


Sustainable businesses to support?


Local favourites include Pacsafe, founded by two Aussies, Rob Schlipper and Magnus McGlashan, both environmentalists and advocates of turtle conservation. They are changing the nature of their business – and thereby the industry – by sourcing nylon thread made from recycled and recovered ocean plastics instead of using virgin materials for their products. The Lion Rock Press produces very cool steel reusable eco drinking containers with the slogan “No Plastic Mm Goi”. Feather & Bone have great organic products and none of their vegetables are wrapped in plastic – they come just as nature dressed them. They also have a customer loyalty card where customers can choose to turn their loyalty points to dollar donations for the Plastic Oceans Foundation.

Hong Kong-based NGO, Redress – and its founder, Christina Dean – has been a big campaigner for a more sustainable fashion industry, calling the industry out on its textile waste and environmental degradation. She walks the talk and among the brand’s many programmes has begun a sustainable fashion line called the R Collective. I‘m a proud ambassador and urge people to consider sustainable fashion if they want to make a big difference to the environment.


For more top tips and green picks in The Fragrant Harbour, grab the LUXE Hong Kong guide...

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