Heading towards a green world

Dr ZHANG Xiaoling
Associate Professor Department of Public Policy

Children's innocence gives them the ability to see the world with absolute clarity. Inspired by a children's story book written by children, and by the questions raised by her daughter, Dr ZHANG Xiaoling, Associate Professor of the Department of Public Policy, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, commenced her research concerning sustainable cities, green real estate and the architectural environment. Dr Zhang is this year's recipient of the CityU CLASS "New Researcher Award". She shared with us her passion about environmental conservation and some stories of her research journey.

The driving force of curiosity

Dr Zhang takes her daughter to the library every Saturday. On one of these library trips, she and her then two-year-old daughter came across the book Monster. The story was about how the beautiful world was destroyed by a group of monstrous creatures. These creatures were humans. "Why are people destroying the world? Why are they not protecting it?" These questions, raised by her daughter, inspired Dr Zhang to commence her research on sustainable cities, green real estate and the architectural environment. "A little bit of curiosity is all it takes to change the world and to make our lives even better", said Dr Zhang. To ensure that her research can be conducted as smoothly as possible, Dr Zhang has a long to-do list and a to- Skype list every day. She video-chats with other scholars, and these interactions generate more chemistry between their various projects.

Sustainable cities

Urban sustainability is one of the foci of Dr Zhang's research. She explains that, "Population growth leads to urbanisation. This is an inevitable process. Yet urbanisation is creating an ever-stronger impact on the environment. The ecological circles needed by cities are expanding, but the growth of a city is not simple, as it must become mature with the city's expansion. The various effects of urban development are gradually gaining public attention. Sustainable development is a kind of evolution. It includes effective use of resources, healthy development of the economy, population flow and commodity transportation. According to Agenda 21 and the UNEP Sustainable Cities Programme, 75% of the world's population will be living in cities by 2050. Urbanisation is a part of development. Some 60% of gross national product will come from cities. However, more and more cities are exhibiting the symptoms of global environmental and developmental crises".

Dr Zhang elaborates further by using Hong Kong as an example,"Rapid growth gives rise to many sustainability issues, such as environmental problems and an aging population. Unless these issues are appropriately addressed, further development will be met with challenges. The sustainability issues of Hong Kong also exist in other major cities. With its experience over the last century, Hong Kong will be well-positioned to resolve them. My research is based on such a context".

“A little bit of curiosity is all it takes to change the world and to make our lives even better.”

Green ≠ Expensive

Dr Zhang especially emphasises that developing green buildings is not necessarily a costly activity in the long run. She quotes from her research work in progress, "In terms of the willingness to pay, there are differences between the owner and the actual tenants of a green building. Therefore, the coordination of the distribution of additional costs and the long-term profits of green buildings is the key to resolving the issue. Of late, the committed quality and long-term returns of green buildings have been compromised because of unknown risks. If there are losses, who will pay for them? If there are gains, who should enjoy them? Most people choose to be 'free riders', i.e., when the government advocates the construction of green buildings out of environmental considerations, the owners will follow suit. However, in the long run, the solution to solving the fundamental problem is to develop a relatively mature and sustainable business model and mechanism to motivate the private sector to develop and roll out 'green upgrade and reform' on existing buildings. One of my research projects, which received funding of around HKD 550,000 from the Research Grants Council, is to identify such motivations from the perspective of the 'developers'. The main idea is to look into whether companies could 'turn green into gold' by constructing a relational model between their environmental conservation strategies, their concept of corporate social responsibility, and their financial performance. The many listed real estate companies in China (including Hong Kong) will serve as subjects of the research, which is currently making progress".

Curiosity, which grows day by day, is perhaps what has driven Dr Zhang to become a node for various research disciplines. Her research topics and efforts are not only influencing the people around her, but also taking us closer to a green world.

Dr ZHANG Xiaoling

Associate Professor Department of Public Policy

Dr Xi a oling Zhang has developed a proven track record of academic and research leadership since she joined CityU in 2012. She is currently the Subject Editor of Journal of Cleaner Production and is also the member of editorial boards of several leading journals. Up to now, she has led a good number of competitive research projects including two RGC grants and two NSFC grants and published more than 100 journal papers with several invited presentations in international conferences.

Research Interests

  • Sustainable urbanization in China
  • Regional sustainable development initiatives and transformations
  • Speculative real estate developers/green housing
  • Land use planning/policy
  • Urban redevelopment and gentrification
  • Environmental studies
  • Energy policy and renewable & sustainable energy use in built environment