Coconut dust leads to eco-friendly venture
When people think of coconuts, they will often think of fresh coconut juice from Thailand. But Orapin Sinamonvech had another idea.
'Six years ago, I was travelling to the eastern part of Thailand when I met a coconut farmer. We talked about his life and business. Then he asked me how he could promote his farm and crops in a better way,' says the Thai woman, 40, who studied graphic design in California. 'I asked myself: is there anything I can do to help our farmers in Thailand improve their livelihoods?'
The question soon led her on a journey to find a solution.
Sinamonvech first went to stay at a friend's coconut farm. She observed the environment and the farmers, and she noticed the amount of dust that fell from coconut shells during harvesting. 'There are tonnes and tonnes of dust covering the ground, just waiting to be burned.'
Then an idea popped in her head.
She wondered if the dust could be turned into something useful. She called up agriculture experts who suggested that the waste could be used to make fibre boards.
After some help from a professor and tests by local workers, Sinamonvech made her first coconut board from the dust she collected.
Her work led her to launch Kokoboard two years ago. The company makes eco-friendly boards from agricultural waste, including rice straw, husk, sunflower seeds and nutshells. It buys its materials from farmers, who pick up a second income from the sales.
The company has since gained worldwide attention. Sinamonvech was approached by construction companies in Japan and Britain looking for creative eco-material. Kokoboard also found factories willing to work together on furniture-making projects.
This month, Kokoboard will exhibit its products in the Japan Home and Building Show in Tokyo. Next month, it will be at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Toronto, Canada.
'I'm happy that I can help the farmers. I've also enjoyed the process and learned a lot,' Sinamonvech says.
Last month, Tiffany Cheung Hiu-wai, 24, along with a group of mainland and Hong Kong students, went to Bangkok to meet Sinamonvech and other social entrepreneurs. The trip was organised by Make a Difference (MaD), a non-profit group hoping to inspire youth in Asia.
'I really admired her passion. Orapin cares about her society and wants to do something to help improve the lives of others,' Cheung says. 'This is the true meaning of a social enterprise.'
At her office job, Cheung promotes social responsibility and tries to improve the lives and conditions of employees. 'Sometimes I find it hard to carry out my dream, but her story has encouraged me. If I'm determined, I can pursue my dream, too.'