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IKEA assumes role in vetting products for sustainability metrics

IKEA assumes role in vetting products for sustainability metrics

Posting in Energy

Renewable energy projects, new sustainability scorecard will headline IKEA's sustainability priorities in 2011.

Yep, it's corporate sustainability report season and one of the latest ones I've perused is the lengthy 2010 Sustainability Report from massive home furnishing retailer IKEA. As you might expect, it is rather ambitious, given that the company has set forth some aggressive aspirations for its corporate sustainability team between now and 2015. In case you're not familiar with those goals, here is a brief synopsis:

  1. Offer a range of products that are more sustainable. That means 90 percent of the company's sales is supposed to come from home furnishing products that are deemed "more sustainable" according to the IKEA Sustainability Product Score Card (more on the scorecard in a moment). The other part of this involves carrying products that are 50 percent more energy-efficient than those from 2008.
  2. Take a leading role toward a low-carbon society. This pertains both to IKEA's corporate and store footprint as well as in selling products that help consumers and businesses reduce their own carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the number of IKEA buildings with solar panels almost doubled in the past year. Eventually, IKEA's current projects will generate 6.8 megawatts of electric power, reducing approximately 7,700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Speaking of which, IKEA actually saw a 30 percent INCREASE in CO2 emissions between 2009 and 2010, because the company let some relationships in which it was paying a premium for renewable energy expire. That said, IKEA stepped up its investments in alternative energy technologies. Aside from the solar, the company's planned store in Centennial, Colo., opening in fall 2011 will use geothermal technology.
  3. Turn waste into resources. The focus here is on achieving zero-waste to landfill and promoting reuse and recycling. (Again, more on that in a moment.)
  4. Reduce water footprint. IKEA is still getting a grip on its water footprint and it hasn't really released much data in this area yet. That said, it DOES know enough to know that its biggest liability here is cotton production, which is one reason it is emphasizing the use of sustainable cotton (which more than doubled in the past year).
  5. Assume social responsibility. Specifically, ensuring specific policies for community involvement, ensuring that employees have an adequate voice in operational decisions, and using its foundation to reach more than 100 million.

Of these aspirations, it is the first one in particular that signals a shift in IKEA priorities and that might have the most impact on you. Consider this statement from IKEA's new Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard:

"Sustainability can no longer be an optional, luxury item in a society heading towards 9 billion people. Living a sustainable life must be affordable and accessible for everyone. Our products should have no negative impact on the planet, but preferably have positive impact and generate zero waste and zero carbon."

IKEA figures it should be judging this on behalf of its customers, which is why it has created the aforementioned scorecard. This rating system will be used moving forward to classify all home furnishing products. It looks at 11 criteria including:

  • Whether or not the manufacturer is actively reducing its use of raw materials
  • Amount of renewable materials
  • Recyclable materials
  • Whether or not the material chosen is the best environmental alternative
  • The ease with which a product can be broken down and recycled
  • Product quality
  • Transportation methods
  • Energy efficiency
  • Whether or not renewable energy was used in production
  • How much raw material gets used in the product (conversely, how much is wasted)
  • The impact the product will have "in use" in a consumer's home

This information won't be disclosed to consumers; rather it will be used by IKEA in its sourcing decisions.

That decision is rather interesting to me. On the one hand, I applaud it because I think some of the eco-labels out on the market today are confusing to consumers. On the other hand, I believe it is the responsibility of companies like IKEA to advocate the purchase of products that are moving toward the positive impact side of the spectrum.

Does the IKEA scorecard suggest that it will eliminate anything that does not subscribe to that philosophy? Time will tell.

Photo: James Butler/Flickr

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure