Circular Economies – a digital tech opportunity in Cambodia?

Written By: Peter Ford

The importance of adopting circular economies to better balance economic, social and environmental growth was the theme of the 2018 Sustainable Development Symposium in Bangkok on Monday, with the role of digital technology and innovation forming a recurring topic throughout the one-day event.

As understanding of global warming continues to grow, and the importance of preserving fragile ecosystems is promoted across the world, the problem of plastic over-consumption and recycling limitations is increasingly being discussed — the recent incident of a whale dying in southern Thailand with a stomach full of plastic bags being a good example of the need to act now.

Monday’s event, hosted by major Thai conglomerate SCG as part of their ongoing sustainable development outreach, featured talks, panel discussions and workshops on sustainable development and the circular economy concept – which requires producers to consider the sourcing and recycling of materials as part of the overall production process.

The role that startups and digital tech can play in ensuring that companies have the smallest possible impact on the environment, was discussed in an afternoon break-out session, with speakers stressing the need for thinking about how products are used and discarded, rather than simply production, distribution and sale that has long been the traditional — linear — business model.

CEO of Thai transportation and logistics software company GIZTIX, Sittisak Wongsomnuk, explained how digital technology can be linked to the implementation of circular economies. He linked the concept of the sharing economy, which includes famous brands like Grab as well as many smaller players, with circular economies; sharing resources plays a similar role to recycling by extending product life cycles and reducing overproduction and supply.

Dr. Mahisorn Wonhphati, CEO of HG Robotics admitted the concept was new to him, but that he was excited about what it means for business and the environment.

“The first thing I had to do was google it, I hadn’t heard of it,” he confessed.

“We will incorporate circular economies into our company culture, and this will force everyone to think about the environment and sustainability in everything we do.”

He spoke of the importance for startups of seeing large and established companies like SCG adapt their practices to support the environment, as it motivates others to follow.

The efforts of SCG and other large companies to adopt to a circular economy was on display throughout the event — from DOW’s use of recycled plastics to construct more durable roads in Asia, to Michelin seeking ways to improve their tyre production process.

And it seems that such efforts have the support of at least one ASEAN government. Deputy Thai Prime Minister Dr. Somkid Jatusripitak stressed at the event the Thai government’s commitment to promoting circular economies, and urged ASEAN governments and the private sector to adopt the practice, as did SCG president Roongrote Rangsiyopash.

“By creating systems in which waste can re-enter the supply chain, a circular economy can lead to environmental and social sustainability,” he told the almost 1,000 assembled representatives from public and private sectors.

As Cambodia continues to develop and understanding of the value of preserving its threatened environment — from reducing plastic bags, to reforestation — it will be interesting to see how the concept of circular economies will be received, understood and adopted. For more information on how digital tech can support and grow, there is a great (and exhaustive) explanation here.

With the burgeoning tech and startup scene, and a young population passionate about protecting nature, Geeks in Cambodia looks forward to seeing the response in the Kingdom to SCG’s call for collaboration to “truly achieve table and sustainable prosperity.”