INTERVIEW: Inhabitat Talks to IKEA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard

by , 04/23/15

ikea, ikea chief sustainability officer, steve howard, steve howard ikea, ikea sustainability, green design, eco design, sustainable design, is ikea green, ikea green practices, ikea green

Why does IKEA care about sustainability? Kind of a hard question…

Steve Howard: I’m going to give you a slightly long answer, if that’s okay. Long but structured. We have many businesses that have been around for any length of time, and we’ve got strong sustainable values in our culture. We’ve also got a vision that was set up more than 30 years ago by our founder. And the vision is to help create a better every day life for many people. So you’ve got people thinking how can you get a better more functional sofa at a lower price so the family in – whether it’s Cincinnati or Shanghai – that’s moving into an apartment can have a great sofa to sit on. We’re motivated by that. And that vision naturally structures to sustainability. And then you also want to continue to lower prices and then you actually look to efficiency in a big way. So efficiency is a great proxy for the long part of the sustainability – if you can be breathtakingly efficient. I’ll give you a couple of examples of where it connects really well.

We have a lamp called the Vidja lamp and there was a design challenge there. As we redesign products we put them through a score card. With that, we eliminated 24 out of 33 elements. Clever design, we did. We lowered the weight of the product by about a half. We also reduced packaging by nearly a third in that product. We also slashed the amount of cotton – mixing it with viscose. The product was better, it was lighter and we lowered the price by more than a third to the customer. So it actually fundamentally changed the footprint of our product. The other thing – we could actually ship 128 of the lamps on a pallet rather than 80. If you can imagine from a fuel efficiency point of view – in one year you could effectively get a 60% increase in fuel efficiency just by the way you design things and pack them. But we take that across the entire range. So it’s good business sense. And then there’s a sort of values driven element.

Obviously no one’s perfect – we’re a good company, with good people doing good things for good reasons overall. So people are well-motivated, and we know that there are four numbers in sustainability. One and half planets – you’ve heard it at the conference here – one and a half planets of consumption today. We can’t carry on for too much longer so we use lots of resources. We have to be really mindful of where they come from and to make sure we secure sustainable forests or farmlands. We have to take a lead on that otherwise, you know, with one and a half planets of consumption, it’s not going to be there for future generations or for the next generation of IKEA. The next number is three billion – three billion extra consumers by 2030. We have two billion consumers today – two billion people in the global middle class. That swells by three billion to five billion by 2030. Six is the next number – six degrees warmer.

If you just take those three numbers and think, “Okay we’re expecting six degrees warming, three billion extra consumers on one and a half planet’s resources – this shapes the business landscape. So [sustainability has] gone from “it would be nice to do” to an absolutely business-critical thing to do. And as soon as I explain that, or my colleagues explain that anywhere in the business – we have a conversation and everybody will say, “What can we then do? How can we help our customers live a more sustainable life at home with super low priced LEDs or induction stoves. How can we help design efficiency and renewable materials and recyclability into products? How can we make our operations completely sustainable? That’s why we are going for 100% renewable energy – we actually own and operate wind farms in six countries now.

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  1. Shelah March 16, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    Sorry buddy, but IKEA is NOT sustainable. They create cheep products that are destined for the sidewalk attached to a “FREE” sign in a few short months.

  2. Wifisun October 29, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Mr Steve Howard
    Chief Sustainability Officer

    Dear Mr Howard

    I have just watched your very interesting TED talk and thank you for what Ikea is doing to bring about change in the way things are done in the retail world.

    I am passionate about sustainability matters myself, and for some time now I have been following the progress of an Australian based company called Papyrus Aust Ltd. –

    This innovative company has developed and patented technology for turning Banana Tree trunk into paper, cardboard, and building panels.

    The process is radical in that it uses no water, other than the water contained in the waste banana tree trunk itself, and the end product is fire-resistant, water repellant, and very strong due to both the structure of banana tree fibre and the patented veneering and laminating processes.

    I believe that this technology is well worth Ikea investigating as part of its sustainability program, as it would have the outcome of substantially reducing the need for wood from trees, and it makes excellent use of an otherwise waste product.

    If I can assist you in any way to establish contact with Papyrus Australia, please do not hesitate to contact me.

    Yours sincerely

    John English
    45 Seabreeze Parade
    Green Point NSW 2428
    home : +61 2 6557 5924
    mob: 0448 111 468
    skype: johnfenglish

    PS: I have a very small shareholding in the company, but otherwise I am in no way involved in their day-to-day operations. JE

    Could you please pass this on to Mr Steve Howard. Thanks

  3. dougselby September 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Winston Churchill famously said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” I believe we are at that moment now. We will use American ingenuity to help forge a new world: one based on respect for the only planet we have, and the biological systems that make our lives possible in the first place.

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