IKEA: Sometimes it’s the little things


By Cate Hull
IKEA, the Swedish-based furniture company, believes sustainability is a global megatrend it wants to own.

“Sustainability will have a huge impact; better fuels and new technologies for the ocean- and land transportation. Electrification of trucks will enable massive innovation when vehicles will be silent and have no emissions. It will, as an example, open up to on- and off-loading inside distribution centres instead of using docks and ramps,” says Elisabeth Munck af Rosenschöld, sustainability manager.

“We invest time, people and resources. We try to be proactive, find better ways of working and identify new business opportunities. Even if the carbon footprint from transportation is small, only about five per cent in the IKEA totality, we need to do our part,” says Munck af Rosenschöld. “IKEA is amongst the biggest shippers in the world, transporting millions of pieces every year. And when you are big, you also have a huge responsibility to drive and implement sustainable change. We only have one planet, and we need to take care of it a lot better than we do today.”

But sometimes it’s the little things that companies do that tell us what makes them tick.

Outside its stores in Malmö and Helsingborg, Sweden, IKEA is now growing lettuce in shipping containers. The company soon plans to begin serving the greens to customers at its onsite restaurants.

For the company, it’s a step toward more environmental sustainability. “There is a need to find better solutions to produce more healthy food using less land and water and at the same time decrease food waste,” says Catarina Englund, innovation and development leader for the Ingka Group, the company that runs most IKEA stores globally. “Urban farming has the potential to transform the global food value chain, as it aims to produce local fresh food within close proximity to meet demand, all while using fewer natural resources.”

Inside each shipping container, a hydroponic growing system holds four levels of plants, or up to 3,600 heads of lettuce. There’s no soil, no pesticides, or herbicides, and, like other indoor farming, the system uses up to 90 percent less water than growing crops in a field. LED lights, running on renewable energy like the rest of the IKEA store, are tuned to help the plants grow as quickly as possible. The lettuce also gets nutrients from food waste.

Not that the company isn’t doing important things on the shipping end.

IKEA is doing the following:

• Working to reduce the number of shipments and fuel used per shipment. This means, for example, increasing the filling rate of the trucks and containers, planning shipments differently and striving for more efficiency.

• Replacing fossil fuel with more sustainable alternatives. This involve a shift from trucks to trains and the use of alternative fuels and electric vehicles.

• Rethinking how IKEA is working and collaborating; teaming up with partners to drive innovation, working with digitalisation and machine learning.

“It’s actually very of simple; if IKEA wants to stay relevant to our customers, our culture and values, to the planet, and basically to ourselves as human beings, we just need to do something. Too many have for too long been waiting, and this needs to change. And we need to do it together, as individuals, companies, and societies,” says Klas Ekman, transport and logistics manager.

Cate Hull is the CEO of FreightExchange, a freight and logistics company based in Sydney.