When Ikea Went All In on Sustainability

When Ikea decided to put sustainability front and center in their business strategy, what happened?

Ikea veteran and sustainability expert Steve Howards talks about how sustainability has gone from a nice-to-do to a must-do.

Howard discusses how he has dedicated his life to sustainability leading him to join IKEA, a company that takes sustainability seriously. He highlights three significant numbers:

  • 3 billion – The number of people joining the global middle class by 2030
  • 6 degrees – The increase in global temperatures we are heading towards
  • 12 cities – The number of cities with a million or more people at the beginning of the last century. 

These numbers emphasize the importance of sustainability in combating the challenges of rapid urbanization, increasing wealth, and climate change.

Howard details how IKEA has made sustainability a core part of its business strategy, focusing on both products and materials. For example, IKEA has chosen to only sell LED light bulbs, which are more energy-efficient and long-lasting than traditional incandescent bulbs. The company had also committed to using 100% “Better Cotton” by 2015, a more sustainable alternative that reduces water and chemical usage in cotton farming. The speaker argues that setting 100% targets makes it easier for businesses to focus on achieving their goals and encourages companies to be decisive and invest in new, sustainable technologies.

Additionally, Howard highlights IKEA’s efforts to use renewable energy in its operations. The company has installed 300,000 solar panels and owns 14 wind farms in six countries, with the initial goal of producing more renewable energy than it consumes by 2020.This approach not only benefits the environment but also makes financial sense, as solar panels pay for themselves within several years and provide free electricity afterward.

Howard also stresses the importance of businesses taking responsibility for their decision impact on supply chains. IKEA has implemented strict codes of conduct, and employs auditors to ensure good working conditions and protect human rights in its factories. The company also collaborates with NGOs and other organizations to promote responsible forestry, and has set ambitious targets for the use of certified wood in its products.

Finally, the speaker encourages businesses to measure what they care about and lead change in areas they value, such as gender equality in leadership positions. They note that while many companies are already taking action on sustainability, it is essential for all businesses to weave sustainability into their business models. By making sustainability affordable and accessible to everyone, businesses can help create a more sustainable world.

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