A 10-year partnership between WWF and IKEA has led to transformational changes – from timber to cotton, to carbon and now looking into their customer’s home.
In the Swedish city of Kalmar, a group of families is trying out ways to reduce waste and energy bills around the house. In Pakistan, thousands of cotton farmers have reduced the water and chemicals they use to grow their crops. In Romania, nearly a million hectares of state forest have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council – a concept that, just 10 years ago, was virtually unheard of.
Linking them is a long-running partnership between WWF and IKEA
. Over the course of 10 years, joint projects have led to changes across the spectrum – from transforming practices in regions where suppliers are based to inspiring customers to reduce their own environmental impact. The partnership focuses on the two commodities IKEA uses most, timber and cotton (see page 10 and 6 repectively), along with climate change.
The partnership began in 2002 out of a shared desire to increase the volume of wood available from well-managed forests. “We had committed ourselves to sourcing all our wood from responsible sources,” says Anders Hildeman, IKEA’s Global Forestry Manager.
“But in the markets where we operate, there simply wasn’t enough certified wood available.”
IKEA sources much of its timber from Eastern Europe. It began working with WWF on a project to promote responsible forest management in Romania, which has since expanded into 11 different countries in Eastern Europe and South Asia. At the time, the idea that forest management should include environmental and social aspects was unfamiliar in the region. There was little market demand for FSC-certified wood, logging practices took little consideration for threatened species and local communities, and there was a thriving grey market in timber of unknown origin.
The partnership has provided information, training, tools and technical assistance to help forestry staff work toward certification.
It has also engaged with IKEA suppliers and other businesses to build demand for FSCcertified wood, and lobbied government to provide supportive legislation for responsible forest management. Over 700,000 hectares of forest in Romania and more than 200,000 hectares in Bulgaria are now FSC certified, and responsible forestry practices are in operation across a much larger area. A new timber-tracking system has made it extremely difficult for wood that is not legally harvested to enter the market. A toolkit for mapping high conservation value forests has been developed and more than 100,000 hectares of high conservation value forests have been identified in the region, including some of Europe’s last old-growth forests.
Anders believes that, by working together, IKEA and WWF have been able to achieve far more than either could alone: “WWF has the networks, competence and credibility.
This combined with our in-house forestry knowledge and ability to create the market pull is what motivates suppliers to go in this direction,” he says. The partnership now works on forest projects in 11 countries, where it has helped trigger a widespread shift to responsible forest management. “In the last few years, we’ve more than tripled the share of FSC-certified wood we use, even as the business has grown,” says Anders.
From suppliers to customers
Building on its success with motivating suppliers, the partnership has now begun looking in the other direction – toward the customers. WWF and IKEA have recently begun exploring ways to enable and inspire IKEA’s customers to live more sustainable lives.
A joint project, currently at the pilot stage, is working with nine families in Sweden and IKEA co-workers in China to look at ways people can reduce their ecological footprint
at home – from how the way they store food can reduce the amount they waste, to how they can use their furnishings to improve insulation.
“Some families have already reduced nonrecyclable waste by 50 to 70 per cent, and have also substantially reduced their food waste,” says project leader Ann-Sofie Gunnarsson. “It doesn’t need complicated, expensive or super-technological solutions – we can change a lot with simple things together with changed behaviour.”
With more than 600 million IKEA customers worldwide, the cumulative effect of these simple things could be huge.