IKEA sustainability manager warns companies not to 'greenwash'

Rebecca Ellinor Tyler is former editor of Supply Management
2 October 2014

"Don't 'greenwash' because you will be caught out," was the message from IKEA UK's environment and sustainable development manager Charlie Browne, speaking at the CIPS Annual Conference.

Addressing delegates at the event in Bishopsgate, London, Browne added: "The media, your own colleagues and customers will be aware" if you pretend to have good sustainability credentials. And when something does go wrong you need to be ready, he advised. "You've lost it if you don't have a response plan in place within 24 hours." He recommended people "look under rocks" and seek input from critics to uncover risks.

Browne said a good starting point was for procurement professionals to look at their invoices to see where resources were expended and judge the amount of carbon emissions their organisations produced. He urged people to "innovate and find a niche in the market" and to share best practice with colleagues and peers.

However, none of this will be particularly effective without support at the highest level, he warned. "It can't just be you being passionate about this," he said, "it has to be driven by someone at the top".

Browne, who has more than a decade of experience in store operations, including waste management, energy conservation and resource efficiency, also gave an insight into how IKEA gets the most out of its resources. He said rather than 'sustainability' being seen as a cost to the business, it now helps it to make money by introducing sustainable products that customers want - for example, lightbulbs, solar panels and containers to save unfinished food. He said, for example, that the phasing out of plastic bags - a policy it introduced in 2006 - had added €4 million to the bottom line.

Browne also outlined work IKEA does in local communities, donating trees to be planted and money to causes. The company focuses on the 'circular economy' - taking back used furniture to recycle the raw materials.

He said the Swedish company introduced its first environmental policy in 1991, but that any procurement professional starting from scratch on sustainability could now have a strategy up and running within 18 months because so much infrastructure - such as recycling centres - exists to support this approach.

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