IKEA, beyond plastic bags

I’ve long been a fan of IKEA and I became a bigger fan earlier this fall when the Swedish-based chain of home furnishing stores banned plastic bags in all of its U.S. outlets. So when I heard that Anders Dalhvig, IKEA’s CEO, was speaking at this fall’s conference of Business for Social Responsibility, I asked him to sit down with me to explain more fully the company’s efforts to become a more sustainable business. I wasn’t disappointed, and so IKEA is the topic of today’s Sustainability column. There’s also some video online of my conversation with Dahlvig.

Here’s how the column begins:

You probably know IKEA as a seller of affordable, stylish furniture that comes in “flat packs” – with more than a little assembly required.

To keep prices down, IKEA asks customers to put together their own desks, chairs and bookshelves. That reflects the company’s roots in Sweden, where it was founded in the 1940s by Ingvar Kamprad, a farmer’s son who sold pens and seed packets to his frugal neighbors. (The IKEA name comes from his initials, those of the family farm, Elmtaryd, and the nearest village, Agunnaryd.)

The flat packs also serve another purpose: They lighten IKEA’s environmental footprint. A delivery truck filled with flat-packed chairs can carry the equivalent of six trucks of fully-assembled chairs. “We must stop transporting air,” said Anders Dalhvig, IKEA’s president and CEO. So the next time you struggle to get an IKEA bookshelf to stand straight, you can take solace in knowing that you are doing the planet a favor.

Today, IKEA’s commitment to the environment goes well beyond flat packs. The fast-growing, privately-held company – sales last year were $21.2 billion Euros (about $27 billion) – has promised to buy more of its wood from sustainably managed forests, to use fewer raw materials in its products, to buy renewable energy (including solar panels for a store that opened in June in Brooklyn) and to curb business travel.

You can read the rest here.

For those of you not familiar with BSR, it’s a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability, led by the very able and likable Aron Cramer. The organization runs a great conference every year that I try not to miss because it brings together leading thinkers and doers from the progressive business world. GE’s Jeff Immelt was among the speakers this year. You can check out session summaries and video from this year’s conference at www.bsr.org/conference.

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