Why should we stop drinking bottled water? Is it bad for the environment as those plastic bottles are guaranteed to be recyclable?
Environmental expert and entrepreneur Pakpoum Mahasith, who is the CEO and founder of EcoloTech, pointed to the massive amount of plastic bottle waste in the sea.
He set up what he describes as an “earth-saving technology company” in Thailand 10 years ago after having lived overseas for over two decades. He saw a business opportunity after realizing the size of Thailand’s plastic bottle waste.
First steps of a green tech firm
Pakpoum told The Story Thailand that he started his career in the fashion and cosmetic industry over 20 years ago. He designed packages for a famous perfume brand and discovered that they were often thrown away after the products were unboxed.
At that time, he started thinking of joining efforts to reduce adverse impacts on the environment. That’s why when he returned to Thailand, he thought of starting an eco-friendly business.
The CEO said he went to college in France at the age of 18. He started with law but then shifted to business management. After graduation, he returned to work in Thailand for a few years but later decided to go back to France and worked for an American garment brand.
After that, he worked for a world-class cosmetics brand for 7-8 years before setting up his own cosmetics company in Paris. But three years later, he decided to return to Thailand in 2013 to take care of his family.
Before starting his business in Thailand, Pakpoum tried to learn about his prospective customers by looking into garbage bins to find out what people consumed. He discovered a lot of foam boxes and plastic bottles inside. About 60% of the garbage are plastic bottles, which meant Thai people drink large amounts of bottled water.
His Internet research found that many Thais opt for drinking water from plastic bottles because Thailand’s tap water is produced from river water and has quality issues.
The entrepreneur then came up with an idea to change the behaviour of Thai consumers in drinking bottled water. Plastic bottles are not biodegradable and the only way to get rid of them is by burning, which is bad for the environment.
After additional research, he discovered that potable water can be produced from surrounding air. The CEO estimated that it would need at least 20 years to change people’s behaviour on drinking water from plastic bottles. That meant his company would be busy during those 20 years.
He started ordering atmospheric water generators from the United States for his newly founded company. However, his friends who agreed to be his business partners opted out, leaving him to continue with the business alone.
“In those days, after having lived overseas for 20 years, I was like a foreigner who started a new business in Thailand. It was really challenging. I had to decide whether to give up or fight on,” Pakpoum said.
He decided to continue with the business, which has grown until today.
Trial and error until achieving success
The founder of EcoloTech said his decision to go ahead stemmed from his belief that every problem had an opportunity and solving the problem was a business opportunity itself.
His business was started in 2013, when its first atmospheric water generators were imported from the US for sale in Thailand. The company started collecting data on customer usage and repair records for further development of the product.
Later, he looked beyond importing the device for distribution. His goal was to develop a locally innovated atmospheric water generator that is easy to use and maintenance.
After five years of distributing imported atmospheric water generators, the company found some weak points in the product. So, EcoloTech came up with the idea of producing its own atmospheric water generator. It managed to develop a prototype with funding from the National Innovation Agency (NIA).
Its prototype drew the interest of the South Korean government as there was a startup in that country working on the same issue, according to Pakpoum. However, after working together for some time, he found that their goals on business and the environment differed, so there was no further collaboration.
The company has sold about 2,000 imported atmospheric water generators, which have been used in hotels, office buildings, schools and temples. However, the company still retains its policy of eventually producing its own products.
The company’s goal is to build atmospheric water generators that are inexpensive so that the device is affordable to as many people as possible, according to the CEO. “We aim to make a device that generates drinking water at a price comparable to that of the existing coin-operated water vending machines,” he said.
For him, his first key success was the transformation from a nobody when first starting his business in Thailand into a guest speaker on environmental issues. He now has a wider choice of prospective investors and business partners.
“I come up with an idea and try it. If it does not work the first time, I change the method before trying it again. Repeat this process until you find the best method,” the CEO said when asked about his formula for success.
For him, you need to learn new things and adapt them to your ideas to create solutions that can answer the questions.
Earth-saving tech company
The EcoloTech founder said his company has five major eco-friendly startups:
1. SKYGIVE makes atmospheric water generators to reduce the use of plastic bottles,
2. REFOREBOT involves robots for reforestation and maintaining the forest systematically,
3. OCEAN PINK is the business of maintaining the seas with arts and technology,
4. BeesGreen is a social business involved in the purchase of recyclable household waste for resale to the industrial sector, and
5. Znail is a mobile application that helps commuters find their way to the nearest mass transit stations.
These five startups share the same goal of tackling environmental issues at their root causes, according to Pakpoum. For example, the REFOREBOT robot is a drone used for monitoring large forests against possible encroachment and illegal entry. He said his company was convinced that monitoring the forest should be the duty of robots, and not humans.
The CEO said that EcoloTech is an earth-saving technology company, and it is also making money. “If it’s not making money, we would not have done this business in the first place. But we are making money in a new way. Humans have to live with the environment forever. Tackling problems at their root causes may not yield fruits now, but this business is sustainable in the future,” he said.
Corporations must have ‘green mindset’
Pakpoum noted that Thailand seems to be pressured by Western countries to adopt the concept of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) in recent years. The European Union has become serious about ESG, which has earned global attention as it is linked to investments and overall economic systems.
For him, general companies may view ESG as a burden but those with a “green mindset” have a different attitude.
A challenge for environment-related businesses is to create a public awareness that environmental problems belong to everyone, not any person in particular, Pakpoum said. Those companies have the duty to acquire technologies or methods to tackle the issues.
“Some people may view that the government must solve the problems. But the state sector has no in-depth knowledge to deal with those issues. So, the private sector must lend our hands,” the CEO said.
What EcoloTech is doing this year
Pakpoum said his company is still looking for investors to further develop its prototype device for commercial production.
The company is looking at two potential markets – the United States and the United Kingdom. Both countries have different advantages. The UK has many tech experts but is not rich in funding. The US has many venture capitalists who are keen to invest in new businesses, but it does not have many tech experts, the CEO said.
His company is in the process of making the decision on which country it will choose to help EcoloTech expand quickly and broadly into the world market.
Pakpoum said his business plan received good responses from prospective investors in the US. According to him, EcoloTech is looking for $10 million (350 million baht) in investment to develop three prototypes for home use, for public use, and for low-income earners. He voiced confidence of business expansion in this area later this year.
His new company, Green Rocket, has just been set up this year to serve as a deal maker between Thai and foreign companies working on environmental projects. Foreign firms looking to invest on green tech in Thailand can enter a “sandbox market” provided by his company.
Green Rocket can help with projects looking to raise funds through an initial public offering (IPO) by getting listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand. The goal is to encourage green tech adoption among the Thais. Green Rocket has been in discussion with trade chambers in 14 countries interested in promoting green tech in Thailand, according to Pakpoum.
He said that green tech should be able to address environmental issues at the root cause. For example, coffee shops have replaced their plastic cups with biodegradable ones. But as it turns out, customers drink coffee at the shops and the biodegradable cups become waste.
The coffee shops opt not to use glass cups for this group of customers because it means higher cost to hire employees to wash the used glass cups. A solution to this problem is that the shops have to get a glass washing machine.
“This is green tech, which tackles the problem at its root cause,” Pakpoum said.