Hong Kong hotelier rips through sustainability labeling “confusion”

Published on
September 8, 2017

The multiplicity of sustainability certification schemes is confusing consumers, according to head of corporate responsibility at one of Hong Kong’s leading hotel operators. 

Janice Lao, director of corporate responsibility and sustainability at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd., which runs big names like the Peninsula Hotel, one of Hong Kong’s grandest addresses, made the comment at Seafood Expo Asia on 7 September.

“There are too many labels…and this is confusing. There is MSC and ASC and then an NGO might tell us there is prison labor in shrimp production and there’s another label to guarantee against that,” Lao said.

Various certification bodies need to “work on the messaging” so that consumers and companies are clear on what the various labels mean, said Lao, who was speaking on a panel discussion at the Seafood Expo Asia. 

Sustainability in itself is not a motivator for local consumers, added Lao, and promoters of sustainable products need to add other motivators to engage consumers. 

“Hong Kong consumers are not sold on saving the world. People want to know what’s in it for me. That’s the hook. We find health and wellness are ways to draw customers’ attention [to sustainable seafood].”

Added Lao: “We don’t see it [sustainability] being driven by customers, people are not making decisions based on us having sustainable products…Individual customers rarely ask, whereas corporations holding events at the hotels do ask.”

Hong Kong retailers are getting increasingly interested in MSC certification, explained Ka Shing Leung, marketing and sales director at KLG Fine Foods, a local seafood importer. But consumers buying choices are still driven primarily by nutrition and food safety concerns, he stressed. 

High per capita levels of seafood consumption in Hong Kong has made the city a priority for the World Wildlife Fund, which has been promoting sustainability among local chefs and traders. 

“We need more support from the industry, particularly from supermarkets,”  Allen To, of the WWF’s Hong Kong office, said.  To said he believes consumers need more sustainable products in order to make sustainable choices.

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