CSR is not only about spending money on charity, but also about coming up with innovative business models that can bring good value to society. Khmer Green Charcoal is a real-life example of such models.
Created in Cambodia in 2008 as a joint project by two NGOs: GERES (Group for the Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity) and PSE (Pour un Sourir d’Enfant), KGC aims to alleviate poverty and reduce deforestation in Cambodia by developing local economic activities, such as production and sales of environmental friendly char-briquettes from recyclable biomass wastes, such as coconut shell.
Four years later in 2012, KGC was incorporated as an independent private company by Carlo Figà Talamanca, the current CEO.
“Our charcoals are not only good for the environment, but also for people’s health because they make less smoke compared to the charcoals made from wood, while their costs are only slightly different,” Carlo says. “They can also burn longer so they can help people save money.”
KGC has never given up another mission for which it was created (I don’t understand what this sentence is trying to say, please rephrase).
Since the beginning in 2008 untill today, KGC’s values and mission didn’t change. The company is providing jobs to 40 poor people who used to live on dumpsites and make their living from selling scraps. They are given good salaries, health insurance and annual leave while the female workers, who receive the same wage as their male colleagues, can ask for a loan from the company to pay their debts. However, these perks come with a condition.
“In their contract, it is required that our workers to send their children to school,” says Chom Vichet, the production manager.
“We want them to keep their children in school until they finish high school.”
“One of the children had grown up and even joined our company as an accountant,” Vichet says.
With its work and commitment, KGC has displayed tangible impacts to the environment and the poor communities in Cambodia, and in recognition of that, it was awarded in 2014 with the International Ashden Prize for avoided deforestation and for innovative clean and energy efficient technology used in the charring and drying process. Today, KGC has reached a production capacity of 100 tonnes per month and is able to supply its Green Charcoal to more than 6,500 end-users in Cambodia. It is hardly believable that when Carlo took over the company in 2012, it was at the brink of closure.
“At first, it was financially unsustainable,” Carlo says. “Yet, after we took over, we went from making 4 tonnes per month to 4 tonnes per day. [Thanks to our benefit], many workers have stayed with us since the beginning, and it is our sense of family that makes us grow every day.”