Impact special: Furnishing solutions

Some environmental challenges do not yet have effective answers. There are others for which answer exist, but are not widely implemented.

Oskar Nolte is a good example. The German company manufactures environmentally friendly coating systems for the furniture industry, targeting its water-based, solvent-free product at the industrialised manufacturers that supply brands such as IKEA.

The product lacks 99 percent of the polluting compounds found in solvent-based coatings. Less product is needed to do one coat as, unlike solvents, water does not evaporate during the process. Despite this, water-based systems account for just 17 percent of the €7.2 billion global market.

“If you’re able to produce the same amount with less input, before being a nicer guy you are a better company,”
Nino Tronchetti Provera

For Ambienta, a private equity firm that invests in environmentally progressive companies, Oskar Nolte was a perfect target. As well as being a high-growth company in a low-growth industry, it offered a proven product for a specific environmental challenge.

“Most of the money deployed in the last 10 years is focused on certain sub-sectors because people were taking about two things: energy and climate change,” says Ambienta founder Nino Tronchetti Provera. “We don’t think the only resource you have to save is energy… what about water, food, land? Second, most green investors focus on new technologies when there are a lot of companies that have already developed the technologies.”

Ambienta brought in a chief executive, chief operating officer and a finance director to help it manage an accelerated pace of growth.

An Oscar Nolte employee works on flooring

Then it looked to increase sales by setting up offices in Turkey, Poland and South America, and placing engineers in the three locations to get closer to potential customers. Coating systems have to be tailored to the specific situation in which they are used, so the engineer and customer have to work closely together.

According to its calculations, Oskar Nolte saved 427 tonnes of energy equivalent in 2016 compared with the year before, equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 10,000 fridges.

“If you’re able to produce the same amount with less input, before being a nicer guy you are a better company,” says Tronchetti Provera. “You are more competitive, you grow and you make money.”