Expert view: Embedded sustainability with Nanette Weisdal

Nanette Weisdal is the manager of the Sustainability Range at IKEA.

We have some unique opportunities as a large company to drive change. It has always been important for us not only to minimise waste but also to use it as a resource. Our founder, Ingvar Kamprad, wrote back in 1976 that “wasting resources is one of the greatest diseases of mankind”, so we see sustainability both as a matter of responsibility and as a good business opportunity.

This is one of the main reasons why IKEA is so successful today. We started with a vision of creating a well-designed life for everyone, not just those who could afford designer furniture. This meant we had to reduce costs at every turn to make our products affordable for as many people as possible. A key component in keeping prices down was to make the best use of resources, which means we have always had a relentless focus on being innovative when it comes to sustainability.

We have the muscles to drive change in our entire supply chain. We don’t just close our eyes and ask no questions — we are right down there with our suppliers on the factory floor, and each year we make plans together to improve. We have the expertise and the power to push for change towards more 
and more sustainable production and material use.

Today, 100 percent of IKEA cotton comes from sustainable sources, which has been a huge accomplishment. Cotton is a very thirsty crop, often grown in water-scarce areas. We use a lot of cotton, so 10 years ago we began teaching farmers how to re-duce the amount of water they use, as well as reducing fertilisers and pesticides, which were not only bad for the environment, but also very expensive for the farmers. Together with WWF and others, we developed the Better Cotton Initiative, setting international standards for sustainable cotton, and our large scale has again been the enabler to make this change which has impacted the whole industry.

We can really make a change. IKEA is obviously deeply indebted to wood, and today we use almost 1 percent of all commercial wood in the world — yet IKEA will have an overall positive effect on the world’s forests, by growing more trees than we use by 2020. IKEA has invested over $2bn in solar- and wind-energy projects, in order to tackle climate change by producing more clean energy than we use.

“It is the small decisions throughout the design process and in production that make a big impact in the long run.”

We are taking it one step further by taking the lead in developing and promoting products and solutions that help people save or generate energy, reduce or sort waste, use less water or recycle it: all at the lowest possible price. Take the LED light bulb as an example. We invested in LED lighting technology when it was three times more expensive than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs — but because of our size, resources and knowledge, we could make LED just as affordable as any other light source. Then we switched our entire lighting range to energy-efficient LED bulbs, and sold 79 million of them in one year. If each bulb replaced an existing incandescent one, it would save enough energy to power almost 650,000 households.

It is the small decisions throughout the design process and in production that make a big impact in the long run. Making the decision to choose colours for prints that are least environmentally damaging, and eliminating the use of chemical brighteners, can still mean a bright future ahead!

IMAGINE: Exploring the brave new world of design and manufacturing,
is a SPACE10 publication investigating manufacturing in the digital age, materials of tomorrow and circular economies.

Read the next part:
Expert view: Biomaterials with Philip Ross

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