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Wales Sustainable Business Summit (3)

Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer, Ikea.

It's impressive to see what the Welsh Assembly have done so far, and it bodes well for the future. Ikea comes from southern Sweden, a tough area full of boulders - people are used to moving rocks before you can plant crops. At my first Exco meeting last month, I noticed how everyone has a Smalland story. We're now a $31bn company with the same vision to make life better for everyday people. Great products at least cost with lowest impact.

How do I approach the world? Growth may be on a pause in western Europe, but the world is on a rapid century of growth in a 'majority poor world'. By 2030, 5bn people should have disposable income; over the next 20 years we inrease the number of consumers by 3,000,000,000

3.6bn live in cities. 6.3bn by mid century. China is building the equivalent of the total floor area of the USA within the next 20 years.

It's getting harder and harder to get the materials we need. The west needs to decarbonise agressively and all growth needs to be zero carbon.

We're making dematerialised tables, made for 10 euros that performs like one for $100, with 85-90% less material

Incandescent bulbs are 98% inefficient; LEDs are 7 times more ineffiecient - they're still giving off heat and waste energy. Induction hobs...we used to chase whales to boil down blubber for whale oil lamps. Gas hobs burn gas. Ship it around by pipes and let it burn around the side of the pan - wasteful like whale oil. We took down the price of induction hobs by 40% and increased sales by 400% in one year - they're twice as efficient as gas. It's this kind of step change that we need.

 Ikea's Uk stores are recylcing at 86%; we have a team of people looking at how we close the loop and take materials back - there's a big commercial opportunity with better product development. It's easy to say 'recyclable' but we need to ensure that it actually ends up being recycled'

Where's the risk for wind farms, in perspective when you look at the impact of Deepwater Horizon vs making energy from fresh air. Wealth will be defined by the strategic assets of water, air, land, soil as we move into the 21st century.

Ikea own the wind farms that produce our own electricity. By 2020, onshore wind is likely to be the most effective way of producing energy in Europe. We're also looking at solar pv - we have very large flat roofs; the bar might be lower in terms of ROI, but our investment still needs to make money.

70% of our product range is in forests - we have 16 foresters working for the company. In the last 50 years of the forestry industry, different species become popular as they are exploited before the next one comes on line.

Sustainability for us is about people too - our 135000 co-workers and 700m visitors are of key importance to us.

In the world of cotton, there's a debt cycle that sees 60-70% of crop value being paid to the suppliers of pesticides - so we've worked with farmers and NGOs to look at new ways of making change happen. Every product has a story - we want every story for every product to be good.

If you want your products to be incrementally less bad, I'm your wrong person"



Reader Comments (2)

Thanks Andy. And fine words Steve ... I like IKEA, but we need to see more actions from you guys ... When will you switch all your cotton to organic? When will you make products that last longer - great sofas, but max 5 year lifespan .. that's not sustainability at work? When will you accept every product back for 100% recycling? When will you encourage people to buy less?

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNick Honey

Nick - I've had other comments similar to yours. There may be elegant sustainability in Ikea - yet still too much looks as though it's come from a purpose-built landfill factory

March 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterAndy Middleton

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