Arriving at The Green Fair, I was ravenous and wasted no time heading to the first food stall that caught my eye.
When my order was served, the “green” in the fair was apparent. The bowl, spoon and fork that I received were not made of plastic, but the remains of sugar cane. The stall was Eleven One Kitchen’s, one of around 20 environmentally-friendly enterprises participating in the fair.
The organiser of the event is Eco Life Cambodia, a project made up of 35 young people with a mission to promote an environmentally-friendly lifestyle and foster eco-entrepreneurships or green businesses in Cambodia. The project won a grant from the United States’ Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Seeds of the Future Grant earlier this year.
Focusing mainly on changing the perspectives and behaviours of its 28 volunteers, the project has included various activities such as learning about zero waste living, hiking and touring green businesses in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The Green Fair is the last big activity of the project, meant to be a confluence of green businesses, NGOs and youth groups.
“We want people who are doing something related to the environment to collaborate and walk forward together,” said Chivorn Sokh, co-founder of Eco Life Cambodia.
The fair had a diverse gathering of businesses, including stalls selling recycled products, organic vegetables, Cambodian dessert wrapped in banana leaves, second-hand clothes, as well as organic beauty and hygienic products.
To fully be a green business, Sokh explained, your business needs to either provide a solution to an environmental issue or create no harm to the environment.
One startup, Green Lady Cambodia, is tackling the issue of plastic waste. Also a winner of the YSEALI Seeds of the Future Grant, the startup provides women with cloth pads and menstruation cups as an alternative to disposable pads and tampons.
Sovanvotey Hok, founder of Green Lady Cambodia, is encouraged by the support and recognition the business has received so far.
“In the beginning, when I put up a booth, people tended to be surprised. Really surprised. But now, when they approach, they have the intention to buy,” she said.
On the other side of the fair, with an eye-catching large gecko made of straws on the table alongside other recycled items, I spoke to Monisi Long Riem, the owner and artist of Silong Original. Behind him were rows of colorful artwork depicting women, men and people going about their activities.
Long Riem produces his art works and products from kitchen and organic waste such as fish gills, egg shells and leftover vegetables. He also works with plastic waste such as bottles, bags, straws and tires.
Sick of the smoke from burning trash, the idea to turn waste into art came to him. Starting his shop in 2009, he once closed it in 2013, but found he could not give it up.
“My dad always says that we can do whatever we please, as long as it has value to ourselves and it helps society, and that’s why I return back to this work,” he said.
For Eco Life Cambodia co-founder Sokh, seeing Cambodians, such as Hok and Long Riem, starting up social enterprises is the goal.
“Because we see that the green business is mostly done by foreigners, that’s why we create Eco Life, to encourage Cambodians to think about green business too,” he said.
Moving forward, the team is aiming to turn Eco Life Cambodia into an agency that supplies environmentally-friendly products and consultancy for businesses looking to turn green.
Hok sees the vital role that businesses play in changing people’s behavior to be more environmentally conscious.
“If we could make business to be the one to promote the eco-friendly behavior, customers would be more aware, and then they can go on to question other businesses, like ‘Why is that business being environmentally friendly, and why not your business?” she said.
“So when a business has customers that review about this matter, I believe others will think more about it.”