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The Green Dream

In Cambodia, “going green” can often mean cutting down a few trees, building a wooden cottage and saying “I have an ecolodge”. But to attract high-end travellers, you need to do the opposite. This comes with time, management and investment. Fronting the Gulf of Thailand, Knai Bang Chatt is one of the first luxury resorts in Cambodia to implement a real sustainability policy. Its CEO, Jef Moons, explained how it works.


As most of the CO2 emissions created by travellers come from them catching planes, travel operators are powerless to completely reduce the carbon footprints of clients.

When it comes to travel, there is only so much a travel operator can do to be environmentally friendly. As most of the CO2 emissions created by travellers come from them catching planes, travel operators are powerless to completely reduce the carbon footprints of clients. In seaside Kep, however, Knai Bang Chatt is adopting new rules to break the mould.

“Will I get one more customer to Knai Bang Chatt because I am so-called ‘green’? Well, last time I checked, no travel agent will send me extra customers because of this. However, they will send extra customers because Knai Bang Chatt now has a blue thumbprint marked ‘sustainable,’” Jef Moons, the resort’s CEO and the mind behind the initiative, told MANAGEMENT INSIDER.

Cambodia still has a lot to learn when it comes to sustainable management. And to Moons, the key is to look beyond labels and promises to invest in people. “It is no use to invest in green technology if your team is not ready to adjust their own mindset,” he says. And now, after six months of daily work with his staff, he proudly announces that the resort will have reduced its energy consumption by 33% in January 2016. This, for example, is the goal the U.N. set for the United States to reach by 2030. “You cannot change a country. But if the private sector looks in the mirror and starts to change itself, it is a first step,” Moons says.


Along with big ideas, this commitment also required a few hundred thousand dollars. The resort is switching all its lamps to LED lights, reducing the consumption of each drastically, from 75W to 2W. It has also created a biological water treatment system to recycle all grey water – water used in bathrooms, kitchen, garden and more – which is now filtered and separated. A four-step septic tank treatment and a final organic treatment is also in place. The leftover sediment is not yet recycled but, according to Moons, it is minimal and disposed of via the municipal dump. As a result of this treatment, all the water in the rooms is fully treated and drinkable, and visitors do not have to use plastic bottles any more, however, they are still provided “to ease the mindset of some customers.”

Step by Step

Moreover, the resort is also using solar power, heat exchangers, reductions and other green technology, as well as smart architecture that maximises local weather patterns to increase natural ventilation and maximise access to wind energy. A new building is under construction to house staff and their families, reducing the emissions of travelling to and from work. With its green technology and management tools in place, Knai Bang Chatt is looking at a total carbon reduction of 53% by December for the entire technical facility. Also, with sensors being implemented on facilities such as air conditioning and fans, the resort’s staff are learning to monitor and manage their own consumption. As a result, in the second week of November, their energy consumption was halved. (In the near future, Knai Bang Chatt will enter the Green Growth 2050 global certification programme, which was developed to intertwine the wants of travellers with the environment’s often ignored needs.)


-Jef Moons, CEO, Knai Bang Chatt resort

Feeling that his staff were ready to take their next step in sustainability, a “green team” has been set up to monitor the potential waste of energy for the whole resort. Besides measuring consumption, they are also learning to make compost for the resort’s floral, vegetable and spice gardens. This, in fact, can be a selling point to European travel agents. “In time, you will see the chef coming to the gardens to cut fresh herbs and vegetables. This is fully organic food, from the garden to the plate,” Moons explains. And the green scene is spreading, with each involved staff member getting a grounding in growing organic gardens. The aim, of course, is to wipe out the use of chemicals, and therefore create the right habitat to attract friendly insects and ensure the correct Ph level and soil structure. Next year, Moons even plans on starting a tree nursery to improve the carbon footprint of the resort.

Earn it Back

When it comes to sustainability, recycling, reducing and reusing are Moon’s favorite verbs. Not only it is possible to save money by reducing consumption, it is also possible to earn some out by recycling. “In Cambodia, you have to do everything yourself. The paper, plastics, glass, cans, oil, metal…everything can be sold. Even our cooking oil can be bartered for Bio-diesel,” he says. The recyclables are sold at recycling shops in Kampot and the income they generate is used to buy gasoline to make the trips. Inevitably, this initiative translates into more work but Moons believes it’s all worthwhile in the race to reduce. “We recycle and reuse much more than this,” he explains. “Any linen or towel that we cannot use anymore becomes another piece of equipment for the kitchen, for example,” he says. “It belongs now to our everyday life.”

Words and photography by Clothilde le Coz