Photo courtesy of Inter IKEA Systems B.V.
Global furniture and home goods retailer IKEA publishes a Sustainability Report each year to present progress, challenges, and new goals on the path to increased sustainability. IKEA is one of a handful of big businesses making commitments to sustainability, from water conservation and sustainable agriculture programs to small farmer support and human rights impact assessments. Encouraged by the 2015 Paris Agreement, IKEA aims “to demonstrate [its] support for government efforts and to show how small changes to the way we live can add up to make a big difference to the planet.”
IKEA stores offer a variety of locally sourced, certified, organic, or low-carbon products. And although it accounts for a relatively small percent of total revenue, IKEA’s food—in restaurants, bistros, and markets—brings in customers. The company learned in 2016 that 30 percent of IKEA shoppers visit the stores only to eat.
According to IKEA President and CEO Peter Agnefjäl, “sustainability is an integral part of [IKEA’s] growth agenda and essential for business success.” IKEA’s food offerings—”sourced in [ways that are] affordable, sustainable, transparent, and traceable, with good standards of animal welfare”—are a large part of this commitment.
Grönsaksbullar, or IKEA’s vegan balls, are among their most environmentally friendly foods and a central part of the company’s mission to increase the use of vegetable ingredients in their food products, especially vegetable ingredients as alternatives to meat products. Research demonstrates that rearing of livestock, especially beef, contributes significantly to climate change. The vegan IKEA offering is in line with other large corporations’ shifts to more plant-based ingredients, such as Chipotle’s 2013 introduction of sofritas: shredded organic tofu available as a protein in all of their burritos.
IKEA introduced a vegan version of its famed Swedish meatballs in 2015, “the first step to include a wider variety of healthier and more sustainable food choices.” According to IKEA, the vegan meatball has fewer calories and less fat, in addition to a 30-times smaller carbon footprint than the traditional meatball.
With its vegan meatballs, IKEA also demonstrates a commitment to using seasonal ingredients, helping the company “meet regional or cultural taste preferences,” while having positive sustainability implications like reduced carbon footprint. The recipes for the vegan meatballs and their accompanying sauces change three times each year so seasonal produce can be used. The Managing Director of Food Services for IKEA, Michael La Cour, told the Huffington Post that the vegan meatball means “patrons who are thoughtful about sustainability, animal-free foods or simply cutting a few calories can sit and feel cared for.”
In addition to reducing carbon footprint by using seasonal ingredients, IKEA seeks to source local ingredients, reducing the emissions required for transporting and storing food items. According to IKEA, half the food served at stores is sourced locally. As of 2015, for example, IKEA had 10 Australian produce and meat partners supplying its six in-store restaurants in Australia. The company says its local sourcing also strengthens its stores’ communities by supporting local food producers.
IKEA is also increasing its commitment to organic options, aligning with studies that show that organic farming is both better for our health and for the environment. All jams and coffees sold in IKEA’s food markets are organic, as are a variety of dishes served in its restaurants.
IKEA’s desire to expand its organic offerings, as well as its certified sustainable or responsibly raised ones, is in line with its dedication to “responsible sourcing of ingredients for IKEA food products, and promoting sustainable farming practices.”
All coffee and cocoa sold at IKEA has been UTZ Certified since 2008, meaning it meets strict standards for sustainable farming and fair working conditions. The UTZ certification program began as a corporate initiative for sustainable coffee farming in Guatemala. Fifteen years later, UTZ helps bring better wages to farmers, empower female farmers, and address climate change issues while seeking “to create a world where sustainable farming is the norm.”
IKEA is “working to overcome supply challenges in some of [its] markets to achieve [the] goal” of selling only certified tea as well. Certifications for tea include UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, or Fairtrade, which address environmental as well as social and economic sustainability in farming practice.
Big business attention to social and economic sustainability is not unique to IKEA. Unilever, for example, has a Sustainable Living Plan that includes elements like understanding its impact on human rights, supporting small farmers, and advancing diversity in industry, while aiming to reduce environmental impact and support sustainable agriculture.
Perhaps most notably, since 2015, all of IKEA’s 23 varieties of fish and seafood—served in its restaurants and markets in 47 countries—have come from certified sources. The seafood is certified by either the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), which labels seafood as sustainably farmed, or the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which certifies sustainably fished seafood. The availability of sustainably sourced seafood is a first in some of IKEA’s markets, like in Iceland, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. La Cour says the move to only certified seafood reflects IKEA’s “high ambitions and commitment regarding the whole value chain.”
Whole Foods has made a similar commitment to selling only certified seafood, as has Lidl supermarkets U.S., which hopes to “set a new standard in the U.S. market.” Seafood Watch says big companies committing to “environmentally responsible seafood is not only an important action to drive positive environmental change—it’s also good for business” as consumers are becoming more conscious of the implications of environmentally harmful fishing.
For pork and chicken used in its stores and restaurants, IKEA takes efforts to support humane breeding and rearing practices IKEA sources its pork from pig farms in the United Kingdom whose standards include that pigs are raised outside, not in confinement, and are able to express natural behaviors. The company has aimed to develop and implement similarly higher welfare standards for beef by this summer.
IKEA did not reach a target to source only free-range eggs—eggs from hens that are free to walk, nest, and express natural behaviors—by August 2015, but the company has reported substantial progress. In its restaurants, all eggs served are from free-range hens as of September of 2016, and IKEA aims to use only free-range chicken by the end of 2018.
With its sites on food waste reduction, IKEA aims to outpace the Sustainable Development Goal of halving global food waste by 2030. The company pledges to reduce its food waste by half by mid-2020. IKEA has reportedly thrown away 43,000 tons of food waste annually. The food waste reduction strategy is based on a test scheme begun in December 2016, in which 84 IKEA restaurants monitored food waste by time and day of the week to better tailor the amount of food to cook. IKEA hopes a reductions in both company costs and the company’s environmental footprint will accompany this reduction in food waste.
Steve Howard, IKEA’s Chief Sustainability Officer, believes that “governments and business must now be bold—moving from commitments to action” on sustainability practices, and is proud of how IKEA remains committed to sustainability.
With 340 IKEA stores in 28 countries, Agnefjäll says, “we can do a lot ourselves, but we can only tackle the big challenges facing the world today by working together with others.”