Green Yards is a social enterprise in Malaysia which provides an alternate channel for households to dispose of used cooking oil.
by Nikhil Sreekandan
In Malaysia alone, over 220 million litres of cooking oil is dumped down the drain in both restaurants and households.
Green Yards provides an alternative channel for the local community to dispose of their used cooking oil. Subsequently, the collected grease is reprocessed into handcrafted eco soaps and candles. The social enterprise has set up collection points, where for every five kilograms of cooking oil, participants get a free bar of handcrafted Green Yards soap.
INKLINE: What was the event that led to the founding of Green Yards? What was your inspiration?
Wen Shin: I graduated four years ago with a degree in environmental science and technology. The idea for Green Yards came up when I was working on a project at the university. I found out that there are recycling bins for newspapers and aluminium cans, which are so common, but there is none for used cooking oil.
I went out to conduct surveys and found out that 90% of households in Malaysia do not know what to do with used cooking oil. Even my friends from other countries gave me the same feedback that they did not know what to do with their used cooking oil. As per my respondents, they mostly dump it into drains, sinks or even toilet bowls.
The influence from my father as a businessman and my interest in environmental issues, together sparked the fire in me to become a social entrepreneur, where I could create an impact sustainably without depending on donation.
During my third year at university, with help and support from my faculty, I successfully implemented the used cooking oil to soap project. And, after my graduation, I was able to turn it into a full-fledged business.
I: How did you get started? How did you set it all up?
W: It all got started when I decided to get my hands dirty and do something about the cooking oil disposal problem in my neighbourhood. As I said, I went from stall to stall, house to house, and surveyed to find out what they did with their used cooking oil and how they disposed of it.
Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.
After I graduated, I was fortunate enough to get into an accelerator programme where I got some help and guidance on how to set up a business on your own. I eventually registered a legal entity for my company and built a website. I redesigned the logo and packaging and started selling through my website.
I: Could you take us through the process: from the collection of used cooking oil to the production process to the marketing and selling of your products?
W: We first collect used cooking oil from the community, then filter the oil using a micron filter, and then reprocess it into soap and candles. We sell our products via the website and at the bazaar. We also do customised orders for corporates.
I: Are you dependent on funding or are you self-sufficient? How have the sales proceeded over the years?
W: We are self-sufficient by keeping our operation cost low, and we scale organically. Our sales have been steadily growing over the years, mostly through corporate orders.
I: What next for Green Yards? What are your future ambitions for the business?
W: We are currently working on a collaboration with the indigenous communities in Malaysia for a new product range. We will be focusing on three main pillars: fair trade, empowerment and sustainability. I hope that Green Yards will be able to grow and replicate the same in other regions too. Together, I believe that we can create greater impact.
I: What advice do you have for a young entrepreneur who is just starting out?
W: My first piece of advice would be to have passion and purpose. It is important to work on something that is relevant to you and that you really care about.
Ask yourself: What is the purpose of starting this business? What is the purpose of designing this product? What is the purpose of such a solution? I found it important to have a good understanding of the problem that you are trying to solve. Also, it will be the reason why you keep going when you are faced with an infinite number of challenges.
Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast. Too often we are worried that our work is wrong or unfinished, we always want to show people perfect products. But I believe that launching minimum viable products, gathering feedback, knowing what works and what doesn’t and iterating fast will help save you on spending too much time and effort on building solutions or products that no one wants. Fail often so you can succeed sooner.
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with a desire to explore life through the stories he chases. An engineer who found recluse in the world of words, he is a journalism post-graduate from Cardiff University. He works as a content editor at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.