Joanna Yarrow, Head of Sustainable & Healthy Living, IKEA Group: “We need to develop a positive vision of how to live a good life within the limits of the planet”

Joanna Yarrow leads the IKEA Group’s work to inspire and enable 1 billion people to live better lives within the limits of the planet by 2030 – by making sustainable and healthy living affordable, attractive and accessible for as many people as possible worldwide. Joanna will be at Sustainable Brands Madrid 2018.

The IKEA Sustainability Strategy for 2020 “People & Planet Positive” was launched in 2012 with ambitious goals to transform the IKEA business, the industries in the IKEA value chain and life at home for people all across the world. How has evolution been?

IKEA’s first People & Planet Positive strategy brought together our social and environmental initiatives to focus on creating a net positive impact for society and the environment. This ambition has guided our sustainability goals and commitments, covering the whole value chain, including supporting our customers to live a more sustainable life at home.

Since the strategy was launched we’ve made good progress. For example IKEA uses around 1% of the world’s cotton supply, and all that cotton is now sourced from more sustainable sources (BCI or equivalent); 77% of our timber is FSC certified or recycled and we’re on target for 100% by 2020. In 2015 we converted our entire lighting range to LED. In FY17 we produced enough energy through IKEA-generated wind and solar power to meet 77% of our energy needs; by 2020 we’re aiming for 100%.

Most of the goals in the original People & Planet Positive strategy were for 2020, so this summer we launched an updated strategy to help steer the business towards more positive impacts between now and 2030. To do this we looked at megatrends and predictions of the biggest challenges to society and the environment by 2030, and in this context identified areas where we believe IKEA can play a role in making a positive difference. As a result the new strategy focuses on several big movements:


Firstly focusing on healthy & sustainable living, with a goal to inspire and enable more than 1 billion people to live a better everyday life within the limits of the planet by 2030. For example increasing the proportion of plant-based choices in the IKEA food offer, like the veggie hot dog launching globally in August 2018 as well as helping people to grow their own food, providing solutions to help people save energy, water and reduce waste, and expanding our offer of affordable home solar solutions to 29 IKEA markets by 2025.

¿Which are secondly and thirdly?

Secondly, transforming IKEA into a circular business. We’re taking the next steps to ensure that each IKEA product can live longer and have many lives, and that materials never go to waste, using more renewable and recycled materials. This means designing all IKEA products with new circular principles (so they can be repurposed, repaired, reused, resold and recycled), with the goal to only use renewable and recycled materials by 2030, and developing new services to help people to extend product life – e.g. renting, sharing, buying second hand, repairing and upgrading.


Thirdly, becoming climate positive, reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than the IKEA value chain emits and reducing the total IKEA climate footprint by an average of 70% per product.



How can IKEA become an inspiring company in environment and regenerate resources while growing its business?

IKEA is the world’s biggest home furniture retailer. IKEA Group (the largest IKEA franchisee) operates 355 stores in 29 markets and 43 shopping centres in 15 countries, with 149,000 coworkers; each year we have 817 million store visits, 460 million shopping centre visits and 2.1 billion visits to So the company’s scale and reach represent a huge opportunity to make a difference.

In order for IKEA to continue to thrive as a business, we need to nurture the human and natural resources we rely upon. IKEA was founded on principles of looking after people and resources and doing more with less. So investments in generating our own renewable energy (which helps bring operating costs down and buffers against price fluctuations), designing products to use ‘waste’ materials and be transported in the most efficient way possible or treating people in our supply chain and operations fairly are part of our business DNA.

Now we’re challenging ourselves to go further, setting ourselves goals to reduce our absolute impacts (e.g. carbon) whilst growing the business and decoupling material use from growth by becoming circular both in our operations and our customer offer. We’re already seeing sales growth in products that specifically support people to live sustainably outstripping the rest of our range. Providing additional products and services that support people to live better lives within the limits of the planet in attractive, affordable and accessible ways represents growth opportunities that are both good for the business and good for the many people.


In this rapidly changing world, what role do brands have to play to cope with global challenges as poverty, climate change or inequality?

Brands that want to help unlock more action to tackle climate change and other global challenges have a huge opportunity to educate, motivate and empower, using their scale and their reach into people’s everyday lives to make positive impact mainstream. And they will be rewarded for it. Research shows that consumers worldwide want brands to act responsibly and take a lead in addressing these global challenges, and will actively seek out brands that play a positive role in society. Meanwhile the majority of retail investors believe purposeful companies are more profitable.

Brands can address global challenges through demonstrating positive action in their own operations (e.g. committing to 100% renewable energy like the members of RE100), and in their customer offer by providing products and services that enable people to address global challenges in their everyday lives, for example making it easy, affordable and attractive to cut their own carbon footprint. And so long as they’re genuinely walking their talk they can play a major role through advocacy and influence – taking an activist position on key topics such as human rights and climate action, holding governments and other institutions to account and coming together to take a stand through coalitions such as We Mean Business.


How can we “Redesign the Good Life”, the motto of the event?

At IKEA we believe sustainability shouldn’t be a luxury, but should be affordable, attractive and accessible for the many people. That’s why we’ve set ourselves the goal to inspire and enable at least 1 billion people to live better lives within the planet’s limits by 2030. In order to do this we need to focus on a number of things:

Create desire and demand: We need to develop a positive vision of how to live a good life within the limits of the planet. Our research tells us we need to balance stories of climate disaster and a grim future with an alternative narrative if we’re to inspire more people to take action. Surveying 14,000 people across 14 countries in our recent Climate Actions Starts at Home research, only 3% mentioned solutions when asked for spontaneous associations with climate change – most focused on destructive outcomes for people and the planet. Our focus groups corroborated that many can’t imagine what a climate friendly future would look like.

To tackle this, we need to start by connecting people’s aspirations for a better life with a more sustainable way of living. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Good Life 2.0 Playbook shows marketers and creatives the rich possibilities open in building on the movement we’re already seeing.

We need to galvanise tastemakers across every discipline and cultural arena to lead the movement making sustainable living accessible and appealing to the mainstream. And communicators must inspire optimism that we can solve climate change and other global challenges, if we’re to avoid the narrative of an apocalyptic future in an uninhabitable world from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Empower & enable: Many of us want to do more – 90% of people we surveyed were willing to change their behaviour to reduce their climate impact. The biggest barriers for most people include not knowing what to do, lack of confidence that their actions will make any difference, and perceptions that it will cost more or be a hassle.

We see that the more people feel they know about climate change, the more likely they are to already be doing things that reduce their impact. And they’re also more willing to do more in the future. So in order to redesign the good life we need to educate people about the solutions available, be clear about the impact of their actions, and emphasise the win-win for them in their own life and the world we’ll leave for future generations.

In our Live LAGOM project we’re exploring how to help people to live healthier and more sustainable lives by providing inspiration, ideas and advice on what actions they can take, suggestions of products that can help them reduce waste or use less energy and water, and workshops to build skills. The project has made a measurable impact – participants see and feel the personal benefits in their own lives, such as saving money, and they feel empowered that they are making a positive difference for society. They also feel pretty positive about the IKEA brand. By taking the time to understand people’s needs and the daily pressures they face, and showing them how sustainable living can help, Live LAGOM has helped achieve a win for people, a win for the planet, and a win for business.

Create a community: For many people the biggest barrier to taking climate aciton or more generally living living sustainably is the perception that governments, businesses and other people aren’t doing enough. People are overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, and they can feel like they’re on their own. We’ve seen the motivating power of community in the success of Live Lagom, where we made it easy for participants to share ideas and experiences with each other. Sharing and celebrating the redefined good life at all levels of society will feed the movement and help it grow.

We need to celebrate the impact of millions of everyday actions – like eating more veggie meals, switching to LED, upcycling, cycling or taking a staycation – that many of us are already taking. There’s much we can do to borrow from the tried and tested tactics of fundraisers by motivating people to contribute more by sharing a growing total of climate friendly or good-life actions, and ask them help us to get to the next milestone. In this way, we can combat the feeling that we’re in it alone, and help to make the new good life feel like the new normal.

At Sustainable Brands Madrid 2018 you will speak about “Building Sustainable Innovation into the Business Model to Improve Lives”. How could brands achieve it?

Come along to the event to find out!

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