Ikea Elevates Sustainability Strategies

CONSHOHOCKEN, PA— Although other, more immediate concerns are dominating retail and the household products industry right now, sustainability is a critical issue in housewares and home furnishings, one in which Ikea has taken a leadership position that it continues to advance with new approaches and initiatives that address deepening consumer environmental concerns.

Last year, the Ingka Group, parent of Ikea Retail, began a reconstitution of the business that made sustainability the company’s core value.

In July of last year, Ingka Group said that the country retail managers of the 30 Ikea regional businesses would take on the additional role of country chief sustainability officer. The move would formalize country retail manager responsibility for sustainability in the markets they supervise.

In its 2019 Better Life Report, which includes a review of Ikea USA’s business and sustainability highlights, the company pointed to acquiring 64,000 acres of responsibly managed forests and a commitment to using electric vehicles for last mile delivery in the New York and Los Angeles. The company continued to promote use of low energy LED lighting and eliminated all single use plastic from its home furnishing product range.

Torbjörn Ellesson, supply chain sustainability manager, Ikea, said, “Sustainability has always been part of the Ikea DNA. Our sustainability ambitions have become even higher and ways of working more structured. But the bottom line is that being a good business is good business, from sourcing with the same requirements everywhere to meeting the customers in the stores to furnish their homes. Given the big challenges the world is facing, working towards the commitments and ambitions outlined in the sustainability strategy is a precondition for the future of Ikea.”

Although the company sets standards globally, it has become increasingly sophisticated in how it addresses environmental conditions regionally, which is helping it meet its goals.

The company developed the Forandring collection in response to rice farming practices in India. In manufacturing the collection, Ikea is “turning rice straw— a harvesting residue that is traditionally burned and contributes heavily to air pollution— into a new renewable material source for Ikea products,” Ellesson said.

Although acting locally is important, Ikea also is a major entity spread across 30 national markets, so it has to think in terms of scale and impact while formulating its sustainability plans. Examples include a move to only source recycled or Forest Stewardship Council certified wood by the end of the year.

Concern with the environment is an issue often thought ascendant in the industrialized world. “In Western Europe, we have seen a growing concern regarding sustainability for quite some time,” Ellesson said.

Yet, he pointed out that sustainability is a greater consideration around the globe. “We see the same trends in developing countries,” Ellesson said. “People in developing countries are more often the ones that really see the impact of climate change, pollution, ocean waste and water scarcity, which sparks a big engagement. Our research shows that people want to live a more sustainable life, but only the minority believes that they live in a sustainable way. The main barrier is that it is perceived to be too expensive. We believe that Ikea has a unique position to help create a better everyday life.”

To further advance sustainability, Ikea is working with partners that have developed a recognized set of resources and with organizations that provide certification so that it can demonstrate to customers that its sourcing is environmentally friendly.

“We cannot reach our goals and commitments without working with others. We are working closely with innovative companies in different industries, NGOs and others to make a positive movement,” Ellesson said.