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IKEA builds sustainability into its furnishings

April 13th, 2010

Families turn out for a recycling event in Frisco, Texas. (Photo: Frisco Green Living)

Families turn out for a recycling event in Frisco, Texas. (Photo: Frisco Green Living)

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

Most everyone is familiar with IKEA, home of affordable, assemble-it-yourself furnishings. But did you know that the company has a code of conduct known as the IWAY?

The familiar blue-and-yellow stores began in Sweden in 1943. As USA Corporate spokeperson Mona Liss likes to say, they “own the whole pipeline,” meaning IKEA controls everything from start to finish, from sourcing to the end product.

“We make sure that everyone follows the IWAY code of conduct,” she says. This means being careful about what chemicals are used; making sure the wood is certified; and that the workers are properly treated. The IWAY code began in 2000 and covers among other things the environment, responsible forestry management, working conditions and the prevention of child labor.

Liss points out that IKEA has been involved in the environmental movement since the early ’90s. “IKEA is a humble company,” she says. “We haven’t been beating our chests, but our sustainability practices have been in place for a long time. Sustainability has always been ingrained in how we work.”

Ever wonder how and why IKEA has such reasonable prices for its furniture?

One answer is “flat packing,” says Liss. Flat packing is a great way to transport furniture, she says. It involves shipping the different parts of a piece of furniture along with its screws and bolts. “Take the Billy bookcase, for example, says Liss. “We can ship 12 Billy bookcases in pieces and boxed for the same price as one assembled Billy bookcase. By shipping in pieces, you can ship more efficiently and use less CO2 in the process. The customer saves money on the item, and the company lessens its carbon footprint.”

On Earth Day, says Liss, “We will for the first time be communicating our ‘Never Ending List’ to the customer.” The list, which cab be found on IKEA’s website but is not usually promoted, features company practices that make IKEA sustainable.

Besides flat-packing and the IWAY code of conduct, the list includes joining forces with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to increase the availability of FSC certified wood and to address the problem of illegal logging; moving towards having its buildings supplied with 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and heating; printing the colorful IKEA catalog on totally chlorine-free paper; featuring at least one organic dish on all IKEA restaurant menus; and encouraging customers in some countries not to use their car by offering free shuttle buses. In Switzerland, some IKEA stores give discounts for home deliveries to customers who use public transit.

“The reason we call it our ‘Never Ending List,’ is because sustainability has no end point,” says Liss.

“One of our earliest initiatives was to phase out plastic bags,” says Liss, noting that IKEA was one of the first retailer to do so. “We reached out to the customer in 2007, announcing that we were beginning the phase-out. We gave them a six-month window. Then we began the phase out in 2008, selling our blue IKEA bags for 59 cents. If customers wanted plastic, we charged them 5 cents which we then gave to American Forests (a nonprofit conservation group).”

The program reduced plastic bag consumption by 92 percent, says Liss.

Another green initiative that IKEA has undertaken is the “I’m a Tree Hugger” program. The company’s trademark is wood furniture. Besides using wood that comes from certified forests, IKEA also plants trees to supplement the trees that are cut down to make their products. “We have planted well over a million trees,” says Liss.

Many of IKEA’s products are environmentally friendly, too. The Norden birch table makes use of the knotty top part of the tree trunk, which previously had been burned as firewood. The Klippan sofa, which is very bulky, has been made into a knockdown piece in which the armrests and back slip into the seating base, making it easier to transport and save on carbon emissions. The Lack side table and the Besta storage system are made with a wood-based frame filled with recycled, honeycombed paper – using less raw material than particleboard. Dvala bed linen is made with cotton that is grown sustainably, using less water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And the Mandal bed frame with storage boxes is made from birch and pine, both renewable raw materials.

In addition to IKEA’s sustainability efforts, the company is involved in several social initiatives such as UNICEF and Save the Children. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, all IKEA stores sponsor an annual soft toy (stuffed animal) campaign. IKEA donates one euro for each toy sold to UNICEF and Save the Children projects in more than 25 developing countries including Albania, Bangladesh, Russia, Vietnam, the Ivory Coast, Uganda and China.

On a local level, IKEA often partners with its home community on environmental issues. In Frisco, Texas, IKEA has joined with the city for the fifth year to sponsor “Clean It and Green It,” as well as “Chunk Your Junk” programs.

“Clean It and Green It is a citywide clean up,” says the Frisco store’s public relations manager, April Berg. “Anyone can participate.”

“Clean It and Green It is a citywide clean up,” says the Frisco store’s public relations manager, April Berg.
“Anyone can participate by contacting the City of Frisco’s Environmental Services division. Individuals and families can register the day of the event, pre-register online at <a href=”http://www.myvolunteerpage.com” target=”_blank”>myvolunteerpage.com</a> or contact volunteer coordinator <a href=”mailto: kdaniel@friscotexas.gov”>Kris Daniel by email</a> or at 972-292-5078,” she says.
Home Owners Associations, schools, churches and community groups also are encouraged to pre-register and hold “Clean It and Green It” events in their own neighborhoods. They pick up litter and debris in the areas of which they are assigned.
After the volunteers fan out throughout Frisco collecting trash, they then return to the store for a barbecue and green prizes. Frisco Mayor Maher Maso also makes an appearance.
The “Chunk Your Junk” program is held at the Frisco IKEA parking lot at the same time. Frisco residents can bring items for drop off or disposal. They must bring a copy of their current water bill for proof of residency. Residents also may bring their hazardous waste products and other items for recycling.

All IKEA stores have drop-off sites where customers can drop off recycling items from home such as light bulbs, paper and plastic. And all stores have recycling canisters throughout the store for shoppers.

Every IKEA store has a recycling center for customers for disposal of cardboard, light bulbs, glass, plastic and paper. The service is strictly for consumer usage, not businesses, says Berg. This type of recycling is a requirement for all stores.

All food waste from the Frisco IKEA restaurant and bistro, says Berg, are processed and either composted or converted to biodiesel fuel. Not all food items are locally produced, says Berg, since much of the menu is Swedish. “But all our factories do abide by green standards,” she says.

Caring for the environment in their humble and modest way may be a reflection of IKEA’s Swedish roots, but company spokesperson Mona Liss believes these also may be traits that other countries, including the U.S., aspire to as well.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network


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