The world is becoming more and more polluted and we all have the power to change this. Katrine Solhaug, owner of Babel Guesthouse and Founder of Babel Eco-Shop and Refill Station, uses her power in making the world one step greener through her eco-friendly businesses. Aside from helping the environment, Katrine also focuses on responsible tourism in Cambodia. She only hires local people and she helps them in receive a good education.
Faces of ASEAN SMEs team (F) was able to talk to Katrine and her story is very inspiring. Here’s what she shared with us.
Katrine Solhaug is the owner of Babel Guesthouse and the founder of Babel Eco-Shop and Refill Station. She believes that each one of us has the power to make the environment cleaner. She helps in making Cambodia a greener place through her eco-friendly businesses. "Go for it. Do what you believe in. Even when people tell you it is not possible. Work hard. Remember there is always another day with new possibilities!"
Posted by Faces Behind ASEAN SMEs on Thursday, January 2, 2020
F: Can you give a short background of your business and products?
K: Babel Guesthouse is an eco-friendly guesthouse in Siem Reap. We are doing our best to cause as little damage as possible to the area where we operate. We have initiatives to reduce waste, like using Bamboo straws, providing free water refill, and using biodegradable garbage bags, take away boxes, and cutlery. We donate our used cooking oil to Naga Earth, who produce Eco-friendly biodiesel from it – that we buy back and use for our generator.
Operating for more than ten years, Babel Guesthouse runs with an active focus on Responsible Tourism. We constantly seek to provide benefits from the tourism industry to the local community in Siem Reap. We only hire local people. They receive training, English classes, and they are given the opportunity to be sponsored with higher education. They also have good working conditions, health insurance, fair salaries, and flexible working hours to enable them to continue their education. We also have our Tour book wherein we recommend our guests to not only visit the temples but also to visit other wonderful projects that can create jobs and a good future for Cambodian people.
Babel Guesthouse has brought the sustainable approach one step further by starting Cambodia´s first Bulk store – “Babel Eco-shop and Refill Station”. Our customers can bring their own bottles to fill up with necessities like shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, laundry detergent, dish soap, mosquito repellent and so on, instead of buying each product in new bottles every time. Most of our products are sourced locally and made in Cambodia. Our main partners are Naga Earth, Kambio Nature, Dai Khmer, Friends International, Only One Planet Cambodia, Rehash Trash and Plastic-free Cambodia.
F: Why did you start your business? Since you have 2 businesses, which one was developed first? How did you come up with the second business and integrate it with the first one?
K: In 2011, I took over Babel Guesthouse with my husband. That was the same time as we started Globalstudies – a company for Norwegian Tourism students. In cooperation with the Norwegian School of Hotel Management, we offered our students the chance to take part in their Bachelor’s Degree in Siem Reap, and specialize in Responsible Tourism. The students would get a wider understanding of their studies by visiting operators who focus on Responsible Tourism and by contributing to the local society themselves. After years of running both Global studies and Babel Guesthouse, we have become known as a Guesthouse that specializes in groups. So now, throughout the entire year, we host various student groups from all over the world, that we teach Responsible Tourism to and the problem with plastic pollution in Cambodia and the rest of the world.
We have always been a “green Guesthouse”, but the idea of starting Cambodia’s first Zero waste bulk shop came after living at an eco-friendly small hotel in Bangkok. Their hotel has a Refill station (eco-shop) in their restaurant area. During our time there we saw a lot of people coming in bringing their own jars and containers to fill up with all kinds of different soaps and other stuff. We talked with the owners and they advised us to find local cooperators here in Cambodia. Since then we have talked back and forth and given each other advises and send people to each other. Our lobby area has always been a place for us that we didn’t know what to do with. It is a perfect space for the shop to be placed. That way people will see the shop already when they enter the Guesthouse for check-in. We hope to open up the eyes to travelers and make them see that they can also do their part in reducing the use of plastic while traveling. I have heard a lot of tourists complaining about all the trash they see in Cambodia. This shop was a way for me to finally get out the message in a nice way – we are all responsible!
F: What got you interested in eco-friendly and zero-waste shop businesses?
K: I’ve always been focused on not using too much plastic, but in the last 5 years, I have become more serious about it, as you can see how wrong we treat the planet. We simply have to start thinking differently. You will then realize that there are many ways to reduce waste. There is so much that we need to do to save our planet. We can’t do everything, but we can all do something. So, my “something” is Babel eco-shop and Refill station. What pushed me to start my eco-friendly business is my wakeup call experience. I saw a chicken in the countryside here eating Styrofoam and plastic. People talk a lot about how we are killing life in the ocean, but it’s just as bad on land.
F: Why do you advocate an eco-friendly lifestyle?
K: We are destroying our planet. We should all change our habits if we want to continue living here. We are all in this together, and we should all act together. Together for a greener world! Because there is no planet b. I want to live in a world where you can swim in the sea without plastic. A world with enough food. A world where you can breathe. A world for people and animals to live in.
F: What is the greatest learning that you gained from Babel Eco Shop so far?
K: That people do care! People will choose an eco-friendly option if it is available for them. I am amazed by how much people appreciate the shop.
F: What is your advice to those who also want to start their own business?
K: Go for it. Do what you believe in. Even when people tell you it is not possible. Work hard. Remember there is always another day with new possibilities!