If you’ve cut up a fresh pineapple, you know that getting to the deliciousness involves hacking away a pile of leaves and skin too tough even for compost.
Multiply that across 500,000 metric tons of processed fruit a year, and you have the most immediate challenge facing Harold Koh, BA ’85, when he took over as the first independent president and CEO of Indonesia’s Great Giant Pineapple, the world’s third largest pineapple producer.
Wait. What’s a veteran with more than 20 years’ experience in Asia’s auto industry doing in agriculture?
Working with nature
Revolutionizing it, that’s what. Since Harold’s arrival less than six years ago, Great Giant has won six major awards on the way to becoming the only major pineapple supplier globally using sustainable techniques throughout the production process.
Video: Learn more about UO grad Harold Koh’s business philosophy in this video, titled “A Different Value.”
How? By asking questions, rediscovering the goodness in traditional practices, and searching for new ways to reuse and recycle every part of the pineapple plant.
“I learned how to develop my critical thinking at the University of Oregon,” Harold said. “We didn’t have to subject ourselves to just taking classes in the area where we were going to work in the future.”
Harold came to campus from Singapore as part of the first batch of international students awarded International Cultural Service Program Tuition Scholarships. He completed a dual major in finance and marketing, but his transcript also reveals an insatiable curiosity about all sorts of subjects not offered by Asian universities at that time.
“I tried a lot of things—psychology, ballroom dancing, linguistics, bodybuilding, political science, sociology—even ceramics,” he said with a laugh. “People at home asked if I was really studying.”
Asking “what if?”
Great Giant Pineapple aims to have “zero waste” through green practices.
So, when faced with a mountain of pineapple trimmings, Harold’s management team asked a simple question: “What if pineapple skins could be useful?”
Inspired by traditional farming practices, they explored the idea of grinding it for use in cattle feed. Knowing that cattle would produce tons of waste of a different sort, they asked another question: What if we could replace chemical fertilizers with composted manure? (The answer is yes—and this new cattle feedlot business sold 80,000 cattle last year alone.)
Meanwhile, processing pineapple on this scale requires massive amounts of water to prevent pollution. Could this problem be solved in a way that added value?
“Why don’t we . . . ?”
Once again, Harold’s value on thinking differently sparked the right question.
“Why don't we use this waste for something else?”
Now the company cleanses water through a treatment process that ultimately transforms wastewater into biogas, a form of renewable energy. It’s already replaced coal for 8 percent of Great Giant’s energy needs. Clean water returns to the plantation’s irrigation system.
“We think in the future we can convert all the way to 50 percent,” Harold said. “It all started with asking how to clean up the waste.”
Another green measure is interplanting pineapple with soil nutrient-enhancing crops to preserve soil health. The company also grows 6,700 acres of bamboo to stem erosion along irrigation lines and reduce the greenhouse effect.
“Bamboo has a positive effect on the air,” Harold said. How positive? Bamboo plants produce 35 percent more oxygen than trees.
Finally, as part of the zero-waste policy and value creation, Great Giant joined forces with a Belgian company five years ago to extract Bromelain, an enzyme with anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, from pineapple stems. The resulting product is gaining widespread use for treating sports-related injuries.
Great Giant’s commitment to a holistic approach is also transforming the lives of about 50,000 local residents.
“Indonesia is a developing country and we want to do more for the local communities,” Harold said.
“We support four schools for our employees’ children, and we supply free buses, housing, and medical care. We give scholarships and we also run a lot community programs to help everyone learn marketable skills.”
Now Harold is supporting the UO’s $2 billion fundraising effort with a personal gift to fund a scholarship like the one that brought him to Oregon as a student. His is the first gift of this kind to come from Indonesia.
“I’ve come a long way in my career, and I thought it would be a good thing for me to give back,” he said. “The UO helped me broaden my thinking, and it was fun.”
By Melody Ward Leslie, BA ’79