Short trip to a sustainable business

The case of Ikea, between profit and environmental commitment

Circular economy is the aim

It is 2805: the Earth has now been abandoned by humans for centuries. WALL•E, the latest in a famous series of robots, has continued undeterred for 700 years in his work as a scavenger of our uninhabited planet, where only hundreds of huge skyscrapers of waste dominate.

We are in 2021, and unlike the famous 2008 animated film, not even space was saved from the garbage; the news circulated quickly on the news, which showed satellite images of an Earth literally surrounded by debris abandoned in orbit, produced by the disuse of the satellites themselves, by probes, solar panels, parts of spacecraft.

The waste problem is only one of the issues that are forcing us to completely review the structure of the current production and consumption model. The increase in population, the production costs in terms of raw materials, the pollution produced, are all factors that are putting a strain on the system’s resistance.

The prevailing capitalist economy is based on a linear process, which can be divided into the phases of extraction of raw materials, production, use and waste of the product. The advent of consumerism has caused production to increase dramatically; the search for resources to be used has led to unlimited exploitation of the environment and ecosystem.

The waste produced is more and more difficult to dispose of, given the new synthetic materials. The limits we are facing are intrinsic to this production model; an alternative has been seen in what is precisely called the circular economy.

The bet of the latter does not only concern the reduction or even the elimination of waste, through its reintegration into the process, but a review of the foundations of the entire economic system, to create one alternative that can regenerate itself, guaranteeing its eco-sustainability.

This would be an economy with zero impact as much as possible, where the entire production process is reconverted, starting from the design to the end of the life cycle of any product, which would make it possible to limit the need for natural raw materials. The circular economy is the direction we must take if we want to live in balance with the entire planet.

The green turn of Ikea

Several companies are making this vision their own and are engaging with concrete actions in the transition to a more sustainable economy. Ikea is one of these and to date, it has carried out several projects with respect for the environment at the centre.

The company has announced that it intends to transform itself into a circular reality in all its aspects by 2030. Reducing emissions, saving precious resources, making products with materials from sustainable sources and designed to be reused or recycled and reducing food waste: these are their goals, the developments of which are reported in Ikea’s annual report, the Sustainability Report, also available online.

Particular attention is paid to food; in fact, Ikea holds over 440 restaurants in its stores worldwide. In this regard, the turning point represented by vertical farming is interesting: the intention is to focus on the self-production of the products to be served in one’s own restaurant chain.

Just an experiment for the moment carried out in the Helsingborg and Malmö stores, where two containers, powered by renewable energy sources, dedicated to the hydroponic cultivation of lettuce have been installed. This technology would allow a saving of water estimated at around 95%, and of the soil, in addition to reducing transport costs.

Similarly, the company’s interest is increasingly turning towards a diet with low meat consumption, to reduce the pollution produced by livestock; among the alternatives being evaluated, there is also the emerging market for edible insects.

Other collaborations are active on this front; we mention the one with WWF, to promote sustainable cultivation and responsible forestry policies; Ikea Italia is also among the signatory companies of the “Pact against food waste”, promoted by Too Good To Go, which we have recently talked about.

Another initiative with a view to sustainability is to produce spare parts and materials, to extend the life of its products, as stated by Ikea. Something similar had already happened in recent years when the company began to recover used products and materials directly from customers, to be put back on sale for a second life, or to be recycled.

An open challenge

The turning point of Ikea is that of many other companies which, having become aware of environmental problems and the unsustainability of the current system, can no longer pretend indifference; they are called to deal with customers, increasingly oriented towards ethical brands and products that are attentive to the planet.

The strategy that drives these changes and in which they are investing would like a combination of two words that conceal two worlds, hitherto always thought of as being in opposition: business and sustainability.

The reconciliation between the two is a recently opened challenge, and not only environmental but also social. Much remains to be done; let’s not forget that we can make the difference too, in our own small way.

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