Q&A with Ms. Susanne Pulverer, IKEA India’s Local Community Leader, about IKEA’s initiatives in sustainability & circular economy

Q. Tell us about the projects IKEA is doing on circular economy and sustainability, especially those that can be useful learning for South Asia?

A. Transforming IKEA into a circular business is one of our biggest ambitions and challenges for the future. It is all about the smarter use of resources and from the very beginning – designing products so they can be repurposed, repaired, reused, resold or recycled in any other way. One of the projects IKEA has been working on is the Food is Precious initiative. IKEA aims to cut food waste by 50% in all IKEA stores by August 2020. A little more than a year since the roll-out of the initiative, IKEA has diminished food waste that is equivalent to one million meals.

IKEA is also committed to the Paris Agreement by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from its value chain in absolute terms. To achieve this goal, IKEA is aiming to reduce the climate footprint from its stores and other operations by 80% in absolute terms by 2030 compared to 2016, as well as aiming to consume and purchase 100% renewable energy while increasing energy efficiency and generating more renewable energy than consumed by 2020. Further, IKEA also aims to also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15% of the value chain in absolute terms by 2030 compared to 2016. This translates to a 70% reduced climate footprint on an average per IKEA product.

With the first IKEA India store in Hyderabad, 20% vehicles used for the home-delivery fleet will be on EVs, scaling up to 60% over 3 years. We are in the process of setting ambitious targets for the reduction in relative emissions from co-worker and customer travel to our stores, shopping centers and other touchpoints as part of setting Science-based targets for our carbon emissions.

Q. What is IKEA doing to recycle plastic waste. Where can it be used finally? What were the challenges it faces?

A. IKEA collects discarded polyethylene film into bales which are sorted, cleaned, and fed into a grinder. The ground-up plastic is then washed, dried, melted together, and pressed through a mesh that removes any remaining impurities. The result is long, spaghetti-like strands of plastic, which are cut into pellets. These pellets are the ‘raw material’ that can then be turned into something new. For our SKRUTT desk pads, the pellets are melted into sheets and cut to measure, giving a strong, flexible, lightweight pad. The desk pad contains 50% recycled materials, and the offcuts can go right back into production, so nothing is ever wasted.

Then there is our plastic bag, ISTAD, made mostly (85%) of a renewable material from the sugar cane industry. The shift is expected to save around 75,000 barrels of oil yearly, helping us to reduce our carbon footprint. IKEA has also used PET bottles to make MEJLS and RORSLEV doormats, HANNALENA curtains, KUGGIS storage boxes and KUNGSBACKA kitchen fronts. Recently, we announced our commitment to remove all single-use plastic products from the IKEA range globally and from customer and co-worker restaurants in stores by 2020.

Q. Is there any opportunity for collaborations with Indian companies on this front? Which are the areas wherein Indian firms and IKEA can be of mutual benefit to each other?

A. IKEA is addressing a footprint larger than its value chain, by supporting the direct ssuppliers to reduce their total footprint (not just the manufacturing of IKEA products). Globally, this enables us to address a footprint around four times bigger than the production of the IKEA products. In India too, we are working on such a model and exploring various opportunities for collaborations with partners in areas of home furnishings, food, transport and waste management. We are in the process of setting ambitious targets for a reduction in relative emissions from co-worker and customer travel to our stores, shopping centers and other touchpoints as part of setting science-based targets for our carbon emissions. We are working with more and more suppliers offering more range than what they are currently doing. Many sustainable raw materials that are available in India like bamboo, jute and other fibers are being explored that will make the range richer. IKEA is in talks with partners and government on how to grow sustainable bamboo, wood etc. that can grow the industry even more

Q. How do you think IKEA’s engagement in South Asia can be deepened further
in sustainability?

A. Globally, we use a lot of wood that is sourced legally from forest departments and farmers. In India, we are in talks with few state governments to source wood without formaldehyde coating. We have also reached out to thousands of farmers here for sustainable products and natural fibers. This is one area where we see a deeper engagement in the coming months and years.

Q. Triple bottom-line is picking up. What is your advice to innovators so that they are able to develop more workable solutions achieving triple bottom-line?

A. Our vision of creating a better everyday life for the many people. And what is good for people is also good for us in the long run. IKEA is fulfilling its commitments to sustainability through its ‘People & Planet Positive’ strategy, in which we use sustainability to drive innovation, transform our business, steer our investments and unleash new business opportunities. This strategy is enabling us to strengthen our competitiveness by securing long-term access to important raw materials, maintain and develop our supplier base, deepen our relationships with co-workers and customers, and increase productivity.

We work with others to transform industries and are founding members of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), and have maintained successful partnerships with UNICEF, Save the Children and WWF for a decade or more. We believe ‘People & Planet Positive’ is the right way forward towards the triple bottom-line model.

Q. What efforts can be done to deepen the awareness amongst the business community about the EPR challenge? 

A. IKEA has the ambition to move our business from mass consumption to mass circularity. We have started our long journey to build a circular business which is a huge task impacting all parts of our business. It starts with how we design our products with the democratic design principles, where sustainability is one dimension. We work towards using renewable and recycled materials. We are looking into where we can use waste streams as resources e.g. using recycled plastic in our products. We work with improvement programs together with the suppliers in the areas of e.g. energy efficiency and renewable energy, integrated water management and waste management in their production set ups.

At IKEA operations, we do waste management and segregation and try to influence the infrastructure for recycling. Currently, around 90% of the IKEA waste (globally) is recycled. In many IKEA markets, we are looking into how we can provide circular services to our customers e.g. take back of used products, upcycling and recycling. As we move forward we will explore what similar services would be relevant in India.

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