IKEA sustainability chief: Go all-in for sustainability

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Steve Howard IKEAWhen the brands that are on the top of everyone’s minds are focusing on sustainability initiatives as an integral part of their businesses, and trying to communicate those efforts to their customers, they can be an easy target for those who see corporations and capitalism as the root of all that’s evil in the world, and it can be simple to point out where their efforts fall short, if that’s where you want to focus.

But those same big companies are making an effort to make their operations more sustainable, they’re bringing sustainability conversations to the mainstream, and they’re serving as models for many other businesses that are not nearly as focused on the environmental, social equity, and economic issues in their operations.

This presentation from Steve Howard, IKEA’s chief sustainability officer (formerly of the nonprofit consultancy Climate Group) at TED Global 2013 is a great example of moving the conversation about sustainability from some unattainable ideal to the achievable and the practical, from something that’s a nice idea to something that is essential.

“So we’ve gone from sustainability being a nice-to-do to a must-do. It’s a must-do. It’s still nice to do, but it’s a must-do. And everybody can do something on this as an individual. Be a discerning consumer. Vote with your wallets. Search out the companies that are acting on this. But also, there are other businesses already acting. I mentioned renewable energy. You go to Google or Lego, they’re going 100 percent renewable too, in the same way that we are. On having really good sustainability strategies, there are companies like Nike, Patagonia, Timberland, Marks & Spencer. But I don’t think any of those businesses would say they’re perfect. We certainly wouldn’t. We’ll make mistakes going forward, but it’s about setting a clear direction, being transparent, having a dialogue with the right partners, and choosing to lead on the issues that really count.

So if you’re a business leader, if you’re not already weaving sustainability right into the heart of your business model, I’d urge you to do so. And together, we can help create a sustainable world, and, if we get it right, we can make sustainability affordable for the many people, not a luxury for the few.” – Steve Howard

Read more about IKEA’s sustainability and corporate social responsibility initiatives.

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