Last week’s “Green is Riel” forum drew government officials and executives from the private sector to discuss new initiatives intended to ensure that development is sustainable and environmentally-friendly. Going green is no longer a choice but a necessity for a successful business, executives said.
Jef Moons, CEO of Kep province’s luxury resort Knai Bang Chatt, urged fellow businesspeople to play a greater role in promoting socially responsible business, outlined what his company is doing and called for quick action along the coast, which is expected to draw as many as 2 million tourists a year by 2020.
Mr. Moons spoke to Khmer Times about what his company has accomplished so far, its efforts to become the first company in Cambodia to achieve “Green Growth 2050” certification, and why teamwork and planning is vital to success.
KT: During your presentation last week you stressed that it was possible for a business to be both environmentally friendly and profitable, and outlined an investment formula. Can you sum this up?
Mr. Moons: At Knai Bang Chatt we redefined “capital,” which is not only measured by economic capital, but also by the return we get on investing in nature and the environment, our social and responsible tourism projects and our people and culture
We put our people and beautiful region first before immersing travelers into luxury. Our guests are not only looking for a room, but for an authentic and beautiful coastal connection to the Cambodia of today. I think building up capital in a more holistic way will give guests peace of mind when they enter the property, and they can also experience something different. We are seeing that this approach is also ensuring future growth and are in fact expanding.
KT: You also mentioned that your first step was to set up a “Green Team.” Why was this necessary?
Mr. Moons: Long-term sustainable growth is important to building a successful company. Creating awareness and making change is a process that cannot be created by a top to bottom approach only. Creating an environmental program with employee support is a necessary first step. It is only when you feel fully supported that you are able to make change.
KT: You are seeking international certification for being a responsible, eco-friendly and sustainable business. Can you say how far along you are in the process?
Mr. Moons: We are fully committed to becoming the first sustainable organization in Cambodia with the global “Green Growth 2050” certification. We work on global standards and 408 key performance indicators [KPIs] to make Knai Bang Chatt a fully sustainable organization. We are now half way [to meeting the 408 KPIs] and we hope to get our first audit in June.
These KPIs are very extensive, covering all facets of our operation including operational performance, social and community engagement, legal compliance, labor practices, health and safety, energy, water, waste, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental stewardship, human rights, bribery and corruption, and customer participation.
KT: Are there any opportunities and challenges that are unique to Cambodia?
Mr. Moons: Here we can still inspire, set a good example and create a path for others to follow. In this country we have fertile ground to invest in and grow.
Creating a new mindset can be easy but creating and maintaining a strong and stable organization is not a piece of cake. The business is not me; it is a team. I have a great management team that communicates well and staff that can deliver high-end services. It is a continuous challenge to keep outperforming the market, but I think we do grow more beautiful every year.
KT: You invest heavily in staff, including medical and accident insurance as well as living quarters. What are the benefits of this?
Mr. Moons: I feel responsible for my own people, but travelers also experience a difference when they enter an organization that takes good care of its own people. We also provide three meals day in our staff restaurant. When staff are treated like family, they become catalyzers to secure guest satisfaction and future economic growth.
KT: You mentioned that you have already invested about $1 million in poverty alleviation in Kep province. What impacts have you seen from this investment?
Mr. Moons: “Hand in Hand” was a five-year community-based project where we worked with village residents on income generation, health and education. What is unique is that most of what has been created over the years is still growing. At “Our School” we now educate more than 400 students (English and computer classes, a library, kindergarten and sports). Also our weavers are still active and all the kramas you find as a welcome gift at Knai Bang Chatt are the result of this project.
What is important to note is that management of the project was successfully handed over to the community. They no longer need financial assistance from us. They now have a pepper farm that generates enough income to support operational expenses.
We still support Grade 12 graduates so that they can attend university. We have observed that in terms of investing in human capital this has the highest return on investment.
KT: How critical was it to partner with an NGO to implement the poverty alleviation project?
Mr. Moons: You have to know your strengths but more importantly your weaknesses before starting a project. You really need to know in detail your goal and also to stick with your beliefs.
I knew I needed to look for a strong operational partner if I wanted to succeed in giving 550 families a better life and I was blessed to find a very strong partner in Bridges Across Boarders, which shared the same mindset and which guided all of us in making lasting change for about 2,500 village residents. This was an immense success and a boost to our morale. We all felt ownership and the residents of the village became our heroes.
KT: Are you optimistic about the outlook for tourism along Cambodia’s coastline?
Mr. Moons: Absolutely. Cambodia is a stable country to invest in and today the rest of the world is discovering our coastline. It is, however, scary to think that we will have 2 million tourists visiting coastal Cambodia every year by 2020. If this forecast is realized we urgently need to create more sustainable templates for the coastal area.
KT : The ministries of tourism and environment are working hard to make it all happen, but we in the private sector have a duty to reach out and help where help is needed. We can easily be part of protecting and enhancing the beauty of our coastal zone.
You also have your eye on setting up a marine reserve. Can you tell us a bit about this?
Mr. Moons: Investing in nature capital and promoting biodiversity is part of our corporate philosophy of doing things that matter to
all of us.
We have received the green light from the Ministry of Environment to submit a plan for a marine reserve project that will be based on protecting and enhancing coral and marine life, creating long-term income generation for fishing families, setting up a technology cell and by educating residents and travelers that we have to take good care of our assets.
KT: You mentioned that even a small operation can have a major impact. How so?
Mr. Moons: Indeed, you do not have to be big to think globally. Changing your mindset and not living as a copy is the first prerequisite to creating a path for others to follow. The best example is that “mainstream people” know “what” they are doing and most also know “how” they do things, however they forget the “why.”
If you want to inspire or if you like to outperform the market, you have to start with the “why.” You first have to know your cause and stick with your beliefs before you can create a major impact and make change that will benefit all of us.
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