Ikea: Affordable and Environmentally Friendly?
While there will always be disputes between the lovers and haters of Ikea, this international manufacturer has been making strides since 2000 towards environmental responsibility. With over 200 stores worldwide and around 10,000 products, Ikea’s commitment to sustainability is a great example for other large retail stores.
The Ikea Way on Purchasing Home Furnishing Products (IWAY), created in 2000, not only outlines things like child labor and minimum wage, but also responsibility for waste, emissions and the handling of chemicals. Third-party auditors complete over 1,000 audits a year to ensured all suppliers are following the guidelines. Audits are also done for all of Ikea’s wood suppliers to make sure that all meet the minimum requirements which include no illegaly harvested trees, no harvesting in uncertified intact forests and no GM trees. Currently 94% of Ikea’s suppliers meet the minimum requirements, with a growing number of suppliers becoming FSC (Forest Stewardship Counsel) certified. Ikea’s long-term forestry goals aim for 35 percent of its suppliers attaining this certification [Source: Ikea]. To be FSC certified, these suppliers must follow the FSC principles:
1. Prohibit conversion of forests or any other natural habitat
2. Respect of international workers rights
3. Respect of Human Rights with particular attention to indigenous peoples
4. Prohibit the use of hazardous chemicals
5. No corruption – follow all applicable laws
6. Identification and appropriate management of areas that need special protection (e.g. cultural or sacred sites, habitat of endangered animals or plants) [Source: Forest Stewardship Counsel]
While wood does make a large part of Ikea’s products, the company is also looking to eventually phase out the use of raw materials by creating new techniques to combat this problem. A good example of this is the like board-on-frame that puts a core of stiff card between thin sheets of wood. Similar techniques will be applied to Ikea, and eventually solid wood will be phased out [Source: Inhabitat].
Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, but another major hurdle Ikea faces is it’s carbon footprint. Packaging, production, transportation and maintenance all contribute to CO2 emissions, around 27 million tons in fact. In order to combat this problem, Ikea is employing several techniques. First, Ikea has announced that they will completely phase out incandescent bulbs by 2011. Ikea stores already offer a wide range of CFLs and LEDs and will offer halogen lights in Fall 2010. Not only does this make Ikea the first retail store to phase out the bulb, they are phasing it out before the federal legislation date of 2012 [Source: Treehugger]. Recent investment in startup green companies with the focus on five key areas: solar panels, alternative light sources, product materials, energy efficiency, and water saving and purification. Ikea hopes to offer consumer grade solar panels, smart meters and other technology at affordable prices in their stores. And since Ikea also makes pre-fab houses, there is the opportunity to incorporate these technologies directly in these units [Source: Environmental Leader].
Of course, Ikea isn’t pushing all the responsibility on the consumer, they are pushing to have all factories running off 100 percent renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency by 30 percent and install solar panels on 30-40 stores [Source: Inhabitat]. Their responsibility also extends to the consumers with the removal harmful chemicals from their items like ‘copper chrome arsenic’ (CCA), antimony compounds and PVC (with the exception of electrical cables). Other chemicals like formaldehyde is a restricted substance allowed in small quantities for wood products and much stricter levels for textiles [Source: Treehugger].
Ikea’s efforts are encouraging, however there are still flaws in their ideas. Completely phasing out solid wood could have the effect of creating more junk in landfills. Solid wood furniture lasts for hundreds of years if well cared for or properly restored, Ikea furniture does not have this longevity. With Ikea’s continual growth, their carbon footprint has also increased 13 percent since 2006 despite their efforts. Still, Ikea’s commitment running a sustainable company could go a long way in pushing other companies to follow suit.