Interview with Dr Shelley Zhou, CEO, HKCCI

14 February 2017

Last month ECCI and the University of Edinburgh welcomed Dr Shelley Zhou, the newly in-post CEO of the Hong Kong Centre for Carbon Innovation, to Edinburgh. Following a packed week of meetings and events, Dr Zhou took the time to talk to us about HKCCI and her ambitions for the Centre as a collaborative partner and hub for low carbon innovation in Hong Kong.

Dr Shelley Zhou, CEO, Hong Kong Centre for Carbon Innovation

What is HKCCI?

The Hong Kong Centre for Carbon Innovation Ltd (HKCCI) was established in July 2015 to underpin a new low carbon innovation hub in Hong Kong for Scottish enterprises and Universities who wish to develop partnerships in Hong Kong and southern China, and for companies looking to access new markets for their products and services. HKCCI builds on the successful model established by ECCI, Scotland's leading low carbon innovation hub.

HKCCI – which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Edinburgh – is at the heart of a “Team Scotland” partnership including ECCI at the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and BRE Scotland with support from the Scottish Government through Scottish Development International. HKCCI provides business and education services to assist Scottish enterprises and organisations involved in the low carbon and renewables sectors who want to enter the Hong Kong and Mainland China markets.

HKCCI’s vision is to establish itself as a reputable hub for education, research and low carbon development. The Centre will showcase Scottish low carbon solutions and broker strong partnerships and collaborations between Scotland, HK and China.

What is HKCCI trying to achieve?

HKCCI has three key strands where we aim to:

  • Develop partnerships and opportunities in Hong Kong and China to support low carbon education and training, and support collaborations for research and innovation with Scottish Universities
  • Help Scottish businesses and organisations, particularly growth SMEs with low carbon products and services, to enter the HK and Mainland China markets.
  • Establish networks and support the University of Edinburgh’s wider interests in Hong Kong, such as alumni activities, opportunities for collaborative research and student recruitment.

Finally, we aim to become financially self-sustaining within two years’ time: this is critical because HKCCI is a stand-alone business and must pull its own weight!

What purpose does HKCCI serve?

We want to apply Scottish technology, research, and know-how as well as products and solutions in HK and China in order to help tackle the big issue of climate change and help Hong Kong with its transition to a low carbon economy. 

Who are you trying to influence and what do you want them to do?

From the supply side, I hope more Scottish entrepreneurs and researchers become interested in Hong Kong and China, or at least want to think about these markets and explore the opportunities there. We can help with this and I hope have influence in this area.

From a demand side, I need to make University of Edinburgh expertise and research, along with Scottish low carbon solutions, products and services, more visible in HK. Our stakeholders include the local business community, local universities, research institutes, HK Government, NGOs, and environment and regulatory organisations.

Do you see a role for Scotland in mitigating climate change in Hong Kong, and in China?

For centuries, Scotland has been famous for its inventors and its spirit of innovation. In more recent years this applies particularly to the area of climate change, with world-leading policies and investment in advanced technologies. I think this can and should be introduced to Hong Kong, and especially China, to help achieve environmental and low carbon goals. Scotland has a lot to offer and the partnerships and collaborations between us will in turn offer Scotland a lot.

What is unique about Hong Kong?

Hong Kong, a developed city in a developing country, acts as a living lab for pilot testing and demonstration projects for the innovative low carbon technologies that China needs. From a business angle, Hong Kong acts as a gateway and soft landing for overseas players to enter China, which is the world’s second largest economy and expected to be an even bigger market in the future. 

What are you hoping to achieve in 2017?

HKCCI is going to offer an ‘acceleration service pack’ for Scottish enterprises to help them enter HK and Chinese market. We are also organizing a summer school camp at ECCI this July to bring high school students from HK to the University of Edinburgh. I think this will provide an excellent platform to promote the University and ECCI, establish our reputation and gain recognition in Hong Kong and entice high calibre students to study at the UOE.

What is your personal area of interest; what do you bring to the role and what are you personally hoping to achieve?

I am an environmental engineer by training. And I was one of the first carbon consultants in HK. I established the sustainability function for the Hong Kong Jockey Club and was in charge of its corporate sustainability performance and reporting for over seven years before taking on this role. I also teach at several HK universities. So I bring both technical expertise, excellent business connections as well as academic experience to this job – which clearly requires all three! 

What is currently the toughest challenge in trying to inspire businesses to change?

If its top down, then we need the presence of strong leadership in the business, leadership that is informed and willing to take the lead, try new things to make a change.

If its bottom up, then we need a high degree of awareness along with behavioral and culture change. 

In addition, capacity building is needed for people who are willing to change but lack the capacity and capability to do so effectively. But challenges are always opportunities to us, so this means that we can work on these areas to facilitate and accelerate the process.  

You talk about collaboration and partnership – what does that look like?

We have been talking to different Universities in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Edinburgh is a very well respected university with a long history and world-class reputation for teaching and many strong research areas. HK universities particularly are keen to have student exchanges, dual certification programmes and collaborative research in areas of Geosciences, environmental studies, sustainability and climate change.  

For Hong Kong businesses, the main research areas we will focus on are resource management, circular economy, distributed energy generation, green transportation and smart cities. One very important area that I'd like to focus in the later stage is to fill the gap between technical solutions and policy and decision-making. 

Is there much interest among industry in HK/China in engaging with Scottish Universities – what form might this take?

I cannot say here is overwhelming interest at the moment, but our job at HKCCI is to stimulate this interest in HK with demonstrations of good, innovative Scottish technology and solutions. This is exactly what we are working on. 

Why Hong Kong?

Hong Kong a major financial centre with a population of seven million people, large infrastructure projects and important priorities with regard to energy efficiency, waste and water management, data capture and usage and intelligent mobility. Hong Kong, and the economically vital Pearl River Delta region (PRD) with its huge manufacturing base and new super-cities, offers enormous business potential for Scottish companies.

Asia’s new breed of city is directly incentivising investment and expenditure in green infrastructure and the built environment opportunities for Scottish businesses with low carbon products and services are finding new markets in this city that also offers a gateway to China.