Sustainability is one of these new buzzwords next to AI, A/B Testing, Eco-Friendly, etc. But what does it mean to be sustainable? What is the difference between greenwashing? And how realistic is it to be sustainable knowing that manufacturing a new product is already a weight on our environment?

At Konligo, we have reached the tipping point between a start-up and a scale-up. It is an interesting step in the life of a young company because it generates interesting debates about the choices we are making.

Sustainability or economic choices?

On one side, we have our vision (a zero-waste event sector) with our humanistic core value. On the other side, we have the economic reality. Two conflicting objectives in a challenging equation full of tricky parameters.

We can opt for a fully sustainable business, without any CO2 emissions, however, in a manufacturing start-up you are very rapidly confronted with the reality:

  • You produce something and therefore you use energy and raw/recycled/reused materials.
  • There are raw materials and end products that are not available in Belgium/Europe so they have to be transported by truck/boat (for some companies even plane), generating a high CO2 emission.
  • Belgian labor is very expensive. And robotic labor is not per se sustainable due to its production process and energy used.

On the other hand, we could go fully for an economic solution, knowing that if we do so, we are throwing away our sustainability principles, as labor and materials are far cheaper in countries like China (some of our competitors are flying branded tents from China by plane and it is still cheaper than our products produced entirely in Belgium…).

Our solution? Being transparent.

In the world of mathematics and optimizations, an equation with conflicting objectives does not have one optimal solution but a range of optimal solutions, each solution being equally valuable: so which is the right answer in our case?

At Konligo we have decided to go for a mix of sustainable and economic solutions. We can still improve the carbon footprint of our products but we cannot hamper our existence. It is not a fixed solution but a variable solution that is re-investigated very frequently to make sure we stay true to our vision and core values. As well as durable in time with a feasible and self-supporting business model. Because in the end, if the business model is not viable and a  company closes its door after 3 years, even if it had very sustainable products, the impact of the company would be next to nothing.

What are our actual situation and our next steps?

We know we are not there yet, but we are doing everything in our current power to deliver a sustainable product:

  • The design of our product is future-proof as it can be adapted in time because it is modular and replaceable (every piece of our product can be replaced, making it analog to the fair phone).
  • All the pieces can be re-used across almost all of our structures because we didn’t conceive a product, we conceived a kit adaptable to create different shapes.
  • We manufacture everything in Belgium, mainly in our workshop at Circularium (Anderlecht). Almost no other supplier of temporary structures does this anymore.
  • Our main suppliers are Belgian companies and the recycled aluminum comes from Belgium.

The designs of our tents, stands, DJ booths and pop-up structures are part of the circular approach.

We are aware we still need to improve:

  • Our joints are CNC machined, which requires quite a lot of energy and creates waste during the production (which can be recycled but then again asks for energy). (update september 2023: in the meantime we have invested in a mold so that the joints are casted and therefore much more sustainable than CNC casted joints)
  • Painting is used to protect the aluminum beams, this provides them a longer lifespan in the event sector, however, it is still painted.
  • None of the membrane suppliers can yet propose recyclable options. To counteract, we try to re-use old membranes for covering sleeves, protection tarps, etc…
  • The raw material of our membrane suppliers comes from outside Europe, mostly China. However, they are manufactured (and printed) in Belgium, something that not a lot of tent and party tent suppliers still do.

So why is it not greenwashing?

Because we don’t pretend to have the best ecological product on earth. But we do our best to make it the most sustainable possible knowing the circumstances and the economic reality. And this motivation does not come because of the trend around sustainability, but because this is a value embedded in our core values and lies at the origin of Konligo. Furthermore, to make sure we are aware of the new ecological alternatives that could replace some of our components, we are actively participating in different groups around circular and sustainable economy (we are board members of Circlemade and Hospitality for example) so that we can test the innovation in our sector as soon as possible.

How sustainable is a manufacturing company?

It is not a black and white answer. In the end, for us, it is about direct and indirect positive impact.

Directly because we can prove that our clients have reduced their carbon footprint by choosing our structure instead of another one, making the CO2 net balance positive. And indirectly by inspiring other entrepreneurs, our suppliers, and our team to be more sustainable and to have a positive impact. We do this by our actions, our philosophy, our vision, and mostly by mobilizing people around our project. And that multiplicator effect has much more consequences than we can imagine.