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Circular Economy and Sustainability at IKEA

5. June 2023,
ikea forum climate and circular economy

I’ve been spying on IKEA for a while. I was looking at their campaigns and their newsletter with a critical eye to see what they are really doing in terms of this sustainable “trend”. I’m a bit ironic because, unfortunately, sustainability had been so used that it had become a trendy word. And like with trends, it seems to me that the concept is kind of losing its essence. However, I wish it weren’t a trend! I wish sustainability is becoming the norm, and it came to stay in our daily practices in organisations or at home, forever.

IKEA Circular & Climate Forum

When I saw Ikea’s email announcing the Circular & Climate Forum I was instantly hooked. I even had to change the appointment to a facial, work a bit in the evening before and after, to negotiate with my husband the logistics… everything, so I could go on June 1st to Ikea. 

And it was worth it! The talks were on the spot, by very passionate people. They were all well prepared, the timetable respected, the round table exciting and the gifts cool too! 

Valencia the European Green Capital

I found out that Valencia is the European Green Capital for 2024. It was news that boosted my confidence thinking of the quality of the air I’m breathing. Lately, I’ve been preoccupied by the infinite construction sites in the city; everywhere you turn you see a crane. The European Commission appreciated the efforts in building sustainable tourism, working hard for climate neutrality and stimulating healthier food production with different projects. Ferim Cerezo, the chief of the Innovation department from the townhouse of Valencia mentioned more actions that the city is working on.

Alligned to the European missions

Among the information that Ferim shared, I took note of the following: 

  • How the city is working along with the five European missions: 1) Work against cancer, 2) restore our oceans and waters by 2023; 3) a soil ideal for Europe; 4) climate neutral and smart cities, and 5) adaptation to climate change.
  • Liderazgo distribuido” = “Distributed leadership” a concept that refers to our common effort in building a sustainable city. If only public institutions would do the “sustainable efforts”, only 10% of the objectives would be reached. That’s why, all citizens and organisations have to be an active leader and do their part in creating a greener city. 
  • Education is crucial. People need to understand that their actions count and they also have to understand in what way their actions count. It’s not useful to just share statistics with people, it’s more important to make them see their own benefits of having a sustainable lifestyle and being active actors in the circular economy. 

Words are important

In his speech there was one expression that kind of bothered me. It wasn’t bad per se, but it made me feel not-included – “valencianos y valencianas”, in English: “valencians men and women”. Yes, I’ve been living here for 11 years now but I can’t say I’m feeling valencian. A bit Spanish, yes, but not Valencian. However, in all this time, I have been paying taxes, and I’m an active contributor to the life of this city. Me and anybody who is living here. I’m constantly contributing with my choices from a 360 degrees perspective:

  • As a consumer: what products and services I buy, where do I buy it from.
  • As a parent, I decide where do I send my kids to school, and pay those schools too. I influence my kids’ behaviour when interacting with people around, majority “valencians”. And also by being an active consumers themselves, for example parks, museums, Biopark, Lego stores 🙂
  • As a professor. I’m also having an impact on this city through my work, and I hope to have a big impact, every professor’s dream. So as a university professor I get to teach and share values, life philosophy with my students, a big part being “valencians”.
  • And as an expat. I also create a part of that local tourism since my family and friends are coming constantly to visit us or just to spend their holidays.

It is only words, but words are important. Words do have power to make us feel in a way … or another. I don’t have a solution, I don’t know how it should be, but I know for sure that having a speech referring only to “valencianos and valencianas” is limited. It is not real, and it’s not even fair. I know too many people like me, like us, living in this city for so many years by now, paying taxes, buying proprietaries, creating companies, creating employment, bringing money directly and indirectly, being part of this green city. I wanted to share this with Ferim, the speaker, but I didn’t have the opportunity … Instead, now, I’m letting it here, black on white, forever. 

Sustainability is neccessary

The next speaker was Isabel Castillo, the Head of Sustainability of the Chamber of Commerce of Valencia. I didn’t even take too many notes but her talk was very good! And I think I was even more impressed by her knowledge, view and beliefs during the open conversation at the end of the event. She made it clear that sustainability is not about greenwashing anymore, it’s not a trend. Sustainability now it’s a norm and it’s a must if we still want to leave a planet to our kids. Isabela mentioned the UE regulations against greenwashing, so I took note for myself to look for it in more details. You don’t know what greenwashing is? Check out my article about it and with my own research regarding one brand that wants to be sustainable; but it’s not: Everlane.  

Even if I don’t have too many thoughts to share from Isabela’s presentation, I can humbly ask you to trust me when I say she was very good! I found her passionate about the topic and I like her determination too. 

The financial impact of sustainability

Another speaker was Begoña from the company Angela Impact Economy. Begoña opened the conversation about the financial impact of sustainability. Also passionate about the topic, she explained how big and very big companies (more than 250 employees) will have to declare all their efforts in terms of circular economy, recycling, reusing, energy reduction and all sustainable related actions. Companies will have sustainable KPIs (=Key Performance Indicators). One of them refers to the percentage of the sustainable products in the total portfolio. Now, let’s see what H&M will say about it (guilty for greenwashing)! Another KPI will be reflecting the percentage of expenses related to ecology and sustainability. Of course, all these KPIs will depend on the sector, size of the company and so on. 

Begoña also highlighted the necessity to educate consumers and buyers and the importance of building a sustainable supply chain. Note to myself: check the European Commission legislation about textiles published in March 2022. Can’t wait to dig into this more!

Circular Economy in IKEA

The talks ended with what Ikea is doing in terms of a circular economy. Qi Kay Sheng, Circularity Project Leader IKEA España, talked about the company’s mission and efforts. From the very beginning, she insisted that in Ikea the goal is that products will become materials for future products. Products are not only products. Products can become raw materials for future products.

 I discovered that all Ikea stores in Spain are having solar panels and they have already reached 100% renewable energy consumption. I also liked the case study presented about Ikea recycling mattresses. How is it possible that 1,5 million mattresses are donated or thrown away every year in Sweden? Read that again: every year 1,5 million mattresses are considered “out of service”. OMG. 

Qi Kai also mentioned the campaigns that they have been doing in the last years, and of course, I was smiling because many of them I knew already. As I told you, I’ve been spying a bit on the company. I love their “Green Friday” when they are buying your old, used Ikea products that you don’t need anymore. 

As you can see, I’ve learnt many new things about sustainability and the circular economy. I felt inspired to do more about it, maybe that’s why the determination to write this article too. And I also have as homework to check more information about the issues I’m interested in: the European greenwashing and the textile legislation. 

And I almost forgot: the gifts! Hey, we all know  we go to conferences for gifts! Joking… No, seriously. We go for the free snacks 🙂 Joking again! Ikea gave to the participants a free cup and a denim bag which was made from textiles that Ikea couldn’t use for the main product. Check the bag in the photo bellow.  

It may appear “just some drops”, but every drop counts!

Hugs from sunny Valencia, Andreea

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