In a quiet, isolated corner of Laeken, there is a 4-hectare space dedicated to the development of environment-conscious enterprises. The place is called Greenbizz, the first sustainable economy incubator in Brussels. Launched in 2016, the initiative is one of several strategies employed by the Brussels-Capital Region with the goal of making Brussels a more sustainable city.
Greenbizz is part of a large-scale urban development called TIVOLI, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER) and CITYDEV. The facility is housed in an energy-efficient building made of wood and other sustainable materials. “As a passive building, it is well insulated and doesn’t require a lot of energy for heating. In fact, the building generates more energy than it uses,” says Greenbizz director Jean-Marc Bryskère.
The place has a hip yet sacred feel to it, almost like a New Age camp where people are devoted to the same philosophy and mission of promoting and cultivating socially and environmentally responsible ways of making profit. “We welcome entrepreneurs who want to make a more positive impact on the planet. Greenbizz provides them with work spaces in a stimulating environment conducive to innovation, “says Jean-Marc.
At present, Greenbizz is incubating about 40 different start-ups. One of its first innovators is the No Science Brasserie which makes artisanal beer. While beer production usually leaves a water footprint of five to seven liters for one liter of beer, No Science strives to maintain a ratio of three liters of water to one liter of beer. No additives or chemicals are used in beer production. “We send our organic waste to farms where they are transformed into cattle feed or reused for composting, ” says Maxime Dumay, founder of the microbrewery.
But what do the beers taste like? “It’s not your typical Belgian beer, but we still put our Belgian touch in it,” says Maxime. “We are trying to break the same old formula for making Belgian beer.” Maxime describes his products as a cross between Belgian beer which is typically sweet, full-bodied, and contains six to nine percent alcohol, and English beer which is typically more fruity, less sweet, and has lower alcohol content. The beers are also named after rock bands and songs: Psycho, Fade to Grey, Stoner Witch, Da’Funk, and more.
Mamé Noka Coffee, another Greenbizz start-up, aims to make a difference one cup at a time. Social entrepreneur Quentin Castel launched the business to provide top quality coffee made from beans that are carefully selected based on strict traceability requirements. He advocates a coffee-drinking culture where consumers can trace the origins of their coffee to ensure that coffee farmers directly benefit from product sales.
“We drink 2 billion cups (of coffee) a day on our planet. For us, it is our morning ritual, our fuel to work, our source of heat in winter. But for farmers’ children, coffee is much more: it is education, it is medicine when they are sick, food on the table. Coffee is the difference between poverty and enrichment. And progress is only possible when farmers have a quality crop and a decent place to sell it,” says Quentin.
One of the more unconventional projects at Greenbizz is Little Food, a start-up that promotes crickets as a sustainable food source. “Crickets are richer in protein, vitamins, and minerals compared to beef and chicken. It’s also more ecological since production requires a much lower amount of energy and resources,” says Maïté Mercier, co-founder of Little Food. But what are crickets like on the palate? Maïté says they taste somewhere between chicken and shrimps.
Just beside Little Food is Cityvini, a start-up that specializes in eco-friendly artisanal wines. Greenbizz also features a zero-waste online grocery store called Lili Bulk which offers 100 percent bio products in bulk and packaged in reusable and returnable containers.
Wood Harmony is one of the non-food projects at Greenbiz. The carpentry business managed by Nicolas Lartelier carries out all types of woodwork from classic to contemporary design for outdoor and indoor installations.
Cityfab 1 is a fabrication laboratory dedicated to digital manufacturing. The ‘fablab’ is open to anyone involved in creating computer-modelled objects using 3D printers, laser cutters, and digital milling machines. It is also a place for creative people to exchange and share technical skills.
It’s still a struggle for most sustainability ventures to make it in the market. “Since sustainable economy is a fairly new sector, it’s quite difficult to launch these start-ups. It involves a lot of risk. You have to develop new business models and find new clients, you have to challenge old business practices and traditional ways of consumption,” says Jean-Marc.
Getting new clients is particularly challenging since sustainable products are more expensive in general. The business of having to look for rarer and more durable alternative materials and solutions that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits all at the same time – is not cheap.
“People need to understand that sustainable economy is not particularly less expensive than traditional economy. But it has a huge positive impact on the environment and on public health,” says Jean-Marc. “It will take time for mentalities to change, but it’s happening slowly.”