By keeping its design high, prices low, service quick and ice cream fresh at the ends of its labyrinthian warehouses, IKEA has become the world’s largest furniture retailer by creating positive shopping experiences for homemakers worldwide.
Yet to ensure its longevity, IKEA has been increasing its investment in a different relationship – one with the planet. Having revamped its 2012-launched People & Planet Positive sustainability strategy last June, the company, which had EUR 34.1 billion in 2017 sales, is no longer content achieving net-zero carbon emissions. By 2030, IKEA aims to have its operations actually reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere as well as inspire 1 billion people to live more sustainable lives at home by making climate-positive furnishings an easy requisite rather than a luxury (despite those linen sheets suggesting otherwise).
Here, Landscape News spoke with Inter IKEA Group‘s head of climate Andreas Ahrens on the company’s changing business model that will take it to these goals.
What were some of the big changes made within IKEA during the past year?
One of our commitments is to become climate positive, which means looking at how we reduce our total value chain footprint in absolute terms, in gross emissions, and also at carbon sequestration within our value chain – and, further, how we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by inspiring and enabling healthy and sustainable living for our customers. We need to address the elephant in the room, which is unsustainable consumption.
And when we were looking at this, a major component was aligning with the circular economy, and not just making our products recyclable, but also seeing how we can change our business model so that we repair, refurbish and resell as much as possible. We have a commitment to have 100 percent circularity in all parts of our business by 2030. That is a major challenge.
And is there a high up-front cost for this?
Every time you do business, you have to invest in the future to make a transition happen. So I’d say the investments that we do are part of normal business development. You can’t just make profits all the time, you have to also invest in the future. But with the new business model, we want to make profit, so we are running pilots internally to see, based on different circular flows, what types of business models make sense for what product types. Is it leasing or subscription models? Or refurbishing? Maybe we take home parts of your kitchen fronts and re-paint them, giving you another one that has already been repainted, and taking yours and giving it to another person. We are really trying to explore these things, and it looks promising.
How have you seen IKEA’s internal mindset change over time?
Looking at a commercial from over 10 years ago, there was a lamp somebody had at home, and then somebody just tossed it out in the street. It was raining on it and all of that, and then a company representative of IKEA says, ‘This is just a lamp, it has no feelings, buy a new one.’ That’s how we were before.
But now, with how we want to address sustainable consumption, we re-made the commercial. There’s a child who walks by, picks up that lamp, and it becomes her best friend. And this same guy who was in the old commercial comes back and says, ‘Of course, you shouldn’t buy a new lamp. It works properly, use it!’ We’re not there fully yet, but it’s a sign of how we’re maturing as a company and how we’re being open with these challenges, in order to really address solutions.
How can a company like IKEA change consumer mindsets?
As a private person, you and me, we want the simple solutions. It needs to be easy to do this. I think that’s the base of everything. It should not be requiring a lot of work and energy, and it must be affordable. It shouldn’t be that it’s costly to repair a product versus buying a new one. So affordability and simplicity is really crucial.
It’s also a question of what we mean by buying less. Instead of changing your couch, could you just change the cover on it? Or trade one sofa for another? So you get not a new sofa, but a different sofa. We need to build models based on that. And then knowledge is crucial as well, so people know what their impact is, and what they can do as a customer to live a better everyday life within the limits of the planet.
Why is sustainability not a bigger part of IKEA’s public image?
This has been a challenge in our sustainability work. We have done so much good, but we have not been good enough at effectively providing communication around it – though, we are very conscious that we are completely correct in the claims we do communicate. For example, almost all of our wood is FSC certified or comes from recycled sources, but few of our customers are aware that.
I am convinced this will gradually change as we progress our work in sustainability. We really want to inspire people and enable them with knowledge and affordable products, and communication is a critical part of this. We also need to communicate what’s happening in the supply chain, in land use – complicated topics that most people don’t know much about. We need to build knowledge about these things, because it’s usually in the supply chain that the footprint sits.
How do IKEA’s signature meatballs and ice cream fit in?
Eighty percent of all land is used for agricultural feed for animals, so the world needs to look at alternatives to animal-based protein. IKEA already has several plant-based options on the menus of our restaurants and bistros, and we are continuously introducing more. We had the veggie meatballs a few years ago, and now we’re introducing the veggie dog, with 85 percent less of a carbon footprint than a regular hotdog. We’re also looking into plant-based ice cream from oats or strawberries, more of a sorbet. So you have the option to buy a plant-based diet for the same price or maybe even cheaper than the animal-based protein version.
There’s also this urgent need to reduce food waste, and we’re really trying to reduce portions to our customers to reduce post-consumer food waste as well as internal – we have a lot of food waste in our restaurants. We want to cut that in half by 2020.
To become more sustainable, businesses, governments, everybody needs to see what is needed to change across all parts of life, and then find the solutions of how to get there, instead of looking just at what we can do today. That’s where the maturity needs to go.