Critical Thinking

Urban water. Eventually, Urban Spring came up with

Urban Spring is a social enterprise established in Hong Kong in 2015. Aiming to improve social welfare, their goal is to reduce the disposable plastic bottle wastes. As an enterprise, Urban Spring also aims to be the game-changer in drinking water habits in Hong Kong. Since there are only very few drinking water fountains available in public areas, Hong Kong citizens tend to buy disposable plastic bottled water. As a result, 5.2 millions of plastic bottles end up in landfills everyday1. Since most of the plastics are not biodegradable, the plastic wastes are harmful to the environment. Moreover, the plastic wastes will fill up the landfills quickly.

From Urban Spring’s perspective, one solution to this problem is to provide drinking water through the use of water fountains. By doing so, free drinking water would prevent the citizens to buy disposable bottled water. Eventually, Urban Spring came up with a design of water fountain and installed several water fountains at different places in Hong Kong. Currently, they are available in a few of offices, schools, and universities, including HKUST. Their business model is to provide not only drinking water through water fountains with sleek designs, but also to maintain the water fountains and make sure they are in good conditions.

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“Pioneering a new urban water drinking experience!”

 – Urban Spring’s motto

In their business, Urban Spring aspires Hong Kong citizens to change their habits of buying bottled water. The company hopes the citizens would realize about how a little change in their habits may bring sustainable values to the environment as well as the people themselves. When Hong Kong citizens adopt a habit of bringing their own water bottle, the daily plastic wastes would be reduced significantly. In addition, their costs of consumptions would be decreased as well, since bottled water are comparatively expensive than getting free drinking water from the water fountains.

Ever since the company was started, Urban Spring has been actively involved in various plastics reducing campaigns. Urban Spring has taken part in Inno-Day, Inno Tech Design Expo, Eco Expo Asia and some events organized by Clean Air Network, AMSA, Science Park, and WWF2. These active engagements have contributed a lot to Hong Kong community, not only raising the issue about plastic wastes, but also giving a chance to Hong Kong citizens to directly contribute to reduce plastic wastes.

Nothing comes easy during the first implementation – the same goes for Urban Spring. First, the process. Urban Spring had to brainstorm the idea of reducing plastic wastes and making it into a business at the same time. Since Urban Spring is a social enterprise, they are different from other NGOs even they have the same goal of towards less plastic wastes. Urban Spring has to make profits in order to exist sustainably. Eventually, they created their business model to be operating with subscription method.

Secondly, the technology. During their first year of establishment, they had to come up with designs of water fountains. Their goal was to have a water fountain with decent design which interests people to walk closer to the water fountain. They also had to assess the readiness of places where they wanted to install their water fountains such as water hose, provision of clean drinking water, and shelter from bad weather. Moreover, they conducted researches on the required qualities of drinking water scientifically in order to provide the most qualified drinking water. Nonetheless, all of these were done when they did not make profit yet.

Thirdly, the people. The challenges are related to the reaction of Hong Kong citizens since it would not be easy to change the habits of the majority people. It is very convenient to buy bottled water and dispose it, rather than carrying around a water bottle when the water fountains are not even publicly available at this stage. However, Urban Spring try to make carrying a water bottle to have a “cool” image through their slogan: We Care, We Carry.

In addition, Urban Spring need a consent from each owner of the places to install the water fountains, either from Hong Kong government or a private owner. Since the business model of Urban Spring operates with subscription method, the owners need to invest for the initial installment fee and pay service fees for a certain period. Hence, it is necessary for Urban Spring to get a consent before installing a water fountain.

Though many more challenges may appear in the future, by aligning the three aspects – people, process, and technology – Urban Spring may operate their business sustainably.

 

 

 

Appendix

Figure 1 Well# water fountain for indoor usage

Figure 2 Go2Zone water fountain for outdoor events

Figure 3 Active involvements of Urban Spring in social events

Figure 4 Incubation program idea pitchers at HKUST. I was part of them, the third from the left on the photo.

 

1 Hong Kong dumps 5.2m bottles a day – is it time for a plastic ban? (2017, October 20). Retrieved from http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2116318/hong-kong-throws-away-52-million-bottles-every

2 Urban Spring Facebook Page. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/urbanspring.hk/

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