If you’ve had their plant balls recently, you might be one of many to wonder, is IKEA actually sustainable? Swapping pea protein for meat is a great way to reduce the carbon footprint of the brand’s iconic food, but is that just the tip of the iceberg for their sustainability efforts—or do they go much further? Let’s take a look.
Is IKEA Actually Sustainable?
Does IKEA even need an introduction? If you’re one of the very few people on Earth who hasn’t welcomed the brand into your home, here’s who they are.
IKEA is a Swedish furniture store that specializes in flat-pack (read: you do the assembling) chairs, beds, tables, lamps, desks, wardrobes—and so much more. Their stores could be better described as “an interior designer’s labyrinth,” because once you make your way in, you’ve got to traverse beautifully decorated kitchens, quirky kids’ bedrooms, and towering furniture stock aisles before you can make your way back out.
And you might end up with an equally towering stack of blue bags after your trip(s) to the home furnishings company.
IKEA has clearly made its presence known. Globally, there are more than 445 stores (and counting). But how is their presence for our planet and the people on it?
IKEA’s Sustainability History
In 2012, and before “sustainability” was trendy, IKEA published their first sustainability strategy, People & Planet Positive. They acknowledged their responsibilities and listed steps to take to allow them to minimize their negative impact.
This 2030 framework was based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and highlighted three main focus areas:
- Healthy & sustainable living
- Circular & climate positive
- Fair and equal
Aware that materials, product use at home, and production had the most significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, these are some areas in which IKEA has made great strides over the years.
Here’s what they have to say about wanting to minimize their environmental impact:
“We have only one planet, with limited resources. Pressure on forests, fisheries and agriculture, loss of biodiversity and wildlife, ocean pollution, erosion of soil and increasing levels of air and fresh water pollution affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world.”
While their sustainability strategy touches on several lofty goals to reach by 2030 (i.e. use renewable energy and regenerative resources, end dependency on fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gasses), the strategy uses words like “striving” and leaves out clear targets.
We’ve got less than a decade to 2030, so what exactly have they achieved?
Quite a lot, in fact.
According to their 2020 Annual Summary & Sustainability Report, they successfully did the following last year:
- Produced more renewable energy than they consumed
- Invested more than EUR 3.8 billion “to become people and planet positive by 2030”
- Completed testing of two types of electric vehicle prototypes (in order to meet their 100% zero-emission goal)
- Experimented with “green” homes, like tiny homes and urban small spaces, and explored how those could be furnished sustainably
- Held workshops and training events to “help accelerate the transformation to a more sustainable society”
- Supported workers as they completed 92,000 sustainability training modules
- Phased out most single-use plastics (aside from disposable coffee cups)
- Provided 11 countries with clean energy services (solar panels and battery storage systems)
- Established buy-back schemes for second-hand IKEA furniture, and built a spare parts service
- Incorporated sustainability and affordability into their products (i.e. energy efficient taps and LED bulbs in induction hobs)
- Found ways to give returned products a second life
- Sourced food (canola oil, eggs, meat and seafood) responsibly
- Used their food waste to create liquid fertilizer to be used on their vertical farm
- Began the switch to only recycled or FSC-certified paper and wood
- Acquired 24,000 hectares of US forest land, to now own 235,000 hectares of responsibly-managed forests
- Made commitments or successfully transitioned to only using sustainable cotton, wool, and bamboo
- Launched an EGENTID line, tea and coffee made with organically grown and/or UTZ certified ingredients
- Minimized their waste and water use, based on previous years
By 2030, everything from IKEA will be made with recycled or renewable materials, and designed with repurpose, repair, reuse, resale, or recycling in mind.
As far as the furniture world goes, that’s pretty impressive.
Aware that millions of people are connected in one way or another to IKEA, the company also has a vision “to improve the well-being of millions of people by becoming a truly inclusive and people-centered company and employer by 2030.”
Here’s how this can happen:
- By 2022, the company will support at least 2,500 refugees with job training and language skills (they’ve already reached 45 refugees in three countries).
- By 2025, they will work with local social businesses to develop products or services, providing income opportunities for people experiencing poverty (so far, they’ve partnered with 39 social entrepreneurs in 18 countries).
Here’s how it’s already happening:
- In 2020, they evaluated their entire supply chain and did not find any cases of child labor or modern slavery.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, they donated 1.7 million IKEA products and provided more than 750,000 healthcare emergency workers with support during the crisis.
The company is also clearly committed to supporting its team.
In 2020, they also launched a Group Equality Plan, which includes targets and actions focused in creating inclusive work environments, being activists for social change, and better reflecting the diversity of our communities.
They also established a goal to achieve equal pay for men and women by the end of 2021.
Here’s a few stats for how it is to work at IKEA:
- 80% of IKEA workers feel they actively contribute to taking care of people and the planet
- 80.3% of workers feel included
- 82.7% feel that they can be themselves
“Together We Can Create A More Sustainable Future”
For a massive multinational company, sustainable and social impact really doesn’t get any better than IKEA’s. It’s even more exciting to think about all of the improvements that they’ll continue to make before 2030.
As a gargantuan company with an equally-huge product line, IKEA’s main downfall at the moment is the materials and the production of all of their products. Going forward, as they continue to embrace practices of circularity allowing each product to be reused, resold, repaired, or recycled, IKEA’s environmental impact will be reduced significantly.
As the world’s largest furniture retailer, we can all hope that they pave the path for other furniture brands to follow suit and make a transition to more Earth and human-conscious practices.
It’s important to also mention that, as a mass-produced company, there are even better alternatives to the furniture behemoth.
If you’ve got the time and know-how, consider looking for secondhand furniture instead of heading to the massive store. Check out a thrift store, ask friends and families for old pieces that are collecting dust, or spend a couple of weekends scouring garage sales. You’ll likely find something far more unique, anyway.
Or, simply avoid buying anything at all. Even if you enter an IKEA store for just one item, it’s likely you’ll walk out with several (probably including some delectable Swedish chocolate cookies). It’s great the world has welcomed more sustainable businesses, but if they’re selling new products, not buying anything is always the best decision for our planet.