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Ikea’s sustainable instinct: Steve Howard at TEDGlobal 2013

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Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Steve Howard has spent his life working toward sustainability. So on the TEDGlobal 2013 stage, he explains why he wanted to work for, of all places, Ikea.

Howard, who now holds the delightful title of Chief Sustainability Officer at the Scandinavian furniture behemoth, says that the company is dedicated to sustainability because of three numbers:

  • 3. The number of people, in billions, who will be coming out of poverty by 2030 and joining the global middle class as consumers.
  • 6. The number of degrees centigrade that we’re headed toward in global warming. We are currently at less than one degree.
  • 12. The number of cities in the world that had a million people two generations ago. Now, there are 500 cities with a population of a million people or more.

Says Howard, “Sustainability has gone from a nice-to-do to a must-do.”

The vast majority of people care deeply about sustainability, but are used to products that are good for Planet Earth being, well, not that good. Think of that expensive, rough recycled toilet paper.  Howard urges companies to focus on creating beautiful, affordable and, of course, functional sustainable products.

One area where Ikea is making strides is in the light bulb department. Ikea is committed to, by 2016, stocking only LED bulbs, which use 85% less electricity than incandescent bulbs. “LEDs are the next best thing to daylight,” says Howard, saying that these bulbs can last for up to 20 years.

Ikea is also focusing in on materials, from what’s used to make their products to the food they serve in the cafeteria. By 2015, Ikea plans to use 100% better cotton. At the same time, they’re working toward responsible forestry, with 35 million hectares of forests certified so far.


Photo: James Duncan Davidson

In their 300 stores around the world, Ikea is aiming for energy independence, thanks to 300,000 solar panels in addition to wind farms.

“By 2020, we will produce more renewable energy than we use,” says Howard. “Renewable energy is a good thing for the CFO, not just the sustainability guy.”

Overall on the TED stage, Howard urges companies to think more about sustainability — and for consumers to reward those that do.

“Vote with your wallets. Be a discerning consumer — search out the companies that are acting on this,” says Howard. “If we get it right, we can make sustainability affordable for many people and not just a luxury for the few.”

Steve Howard’s talk is now available for viewing. Watch it on »