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

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

We find ourselves in a constant dilemma

On the one side we have our vision (a zero-waste event sector) with our humanistic core values and 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 their production process and energy used.

On the other hand we could go fully for an economic solution, knowing that if 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…).

What is the ideal solution?

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 between a sustainable and economic solution, keeping in mind that we can still improve the carbon footprint of our products but that 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 we already doing, and what can we still improve?

We know we are not yet there, 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 fairphone).
  • All the pieces can be re-used across almost all of our structures, because we didn’t conceive a product, we conceived a kit, like a Meccano kit, adaptable to create different shapes.
  • We manufacture everything in Belgium, mainly in our workshop at Circularium (Anderlecht). Almost none other suppliers 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, pop-up structures are therefore part of the circular approach.

However 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).
  • Painting is used to protect the aluminum beams, this provides them a longer lifespan in the event sector, however, it is still paint.
  • None of the membrane suppliers can yet propose recyclable options. To counteract, we try to re-use old membranes for covering sleeves, protection baches, 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, however, 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 a value that is embedded in our core values and lays 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 member 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 for 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.