Greenhouse Pioneer: Joanna Yarrow, Head of Sustainability at IKEA

IKEA, the global Swedish furniture chainare guided by their vision of creating a better everyday life for the many people. They believe that sustainability should not be a luxury that few can afford and recognise that they have a responsibility beyond the home through the impact of their business and the role they have in society. Sustainability has become an integrated part of their business and is one of the strategic cornerstones in the IKEA Group.

With IKEA now recognised as a Leader in sustainability, we caught up with Joanna Yarrow, IKEA’s Head of Sustainability about the company’s mission, exciting projects they’re working on, Tesla sports cars andBarack Obama…

What’s your mission at IKEA?

Our mission is to help people live a more sustainable life at home by saving and generating energy, saving and reusing water, reducing and recycling waste and living a healthier lifestyle. All in ways that are affordable, attractive and accessible

Our aim is that all aspects of our business will be ‘net positive’, creating benefits for the environment and for society.

Congratulations on recently winning Highly Commended Company of the Year at the BG Awards, why do you think you won the award?

Sustainability is very much at the heart of IKEA in terms of what we do and how we do it so there are plenty of examples to refer to when we enter a sustainability award. We were delighted to win Company of the Year last year, so we can’t be too greedy now can we!

How important is communications for sustainability?

In a nutshell, communication is really important. However well you’re doing on your sustainability journey, it’s key to ensure you talk about it in an engaging way to inspire others and have a knock-on effect.

I think sustainability communications are improving but we’ve got an enormous way to go. As people working within sustainability, we’re already interested and well versed in the issues – we are all very good at talking to each other – but we need to go outside beyond our green niche circle to connect with other people and frame the discussion around day to day issues that they care about.

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What projects for IKEA are you working on at the moment that’s getting you fired up and excited?

We’re working on so many things that I’m excited about! To name a few:

We’re switching to 100% LED lighting from 1st September, so all the bulbs and lamps we sell will be LED [ahead of our 2016 target]. This was our goal for 2016, so we’re really happy to be beating our own target. To my knowledge we’ll be the first retailer to make this 100% switch to LED! We’re going all in, combining our huge supply chain with price investments to make LED technology affordable, accessible and attractive.

We have also just pledged another €1 billion to address climate change; €600m will go straight into funding renewable energy (on top of the €1.5 billion we’ve invested so far) and €400m will go towards helping communities most affected by climate change.

Another initiative I’m really excited about is selling solar panels in all our UK and Ireland stores. Our aim is to normalise solar power, bringing the price down, making it more visually appealing and removing mystique and uncertainty. We offer a turnkey solution working with customers from the first consultation to installation, maintenance, monitoring and upkeep. In order to make PV really accessible not only is the price very competitive, but customers can take out a ‘solar loan’ where they pay back the cost of the panels from the energy they generate. So all you need is a roof and £100 for the survey – then you get free energy, and after about 7 years a guaranteed income! It’s becoming very popular. We’re selling to more of small homes than predicted and to customers who hadn’t previously considered solar power, which shows that this is taking on mass market appeal. I love the fact that customers come into the store to buy towels and then leave with solar panels because they discover it’s such a great investment!

We’re also running a project that gives our co-workers a chance to try living more sustainably at home. They take home sustainable products and provide us with candid feedback, insights and inspiration based on their experiences. It’s a great way to create a personal connection with our sustainability agenda, and the participants are becoming fantastic ambassadors with their colleagues as well as customers. We’re planning something similar for customer households, which is really exciting.

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Where do you want to take IKEA next?

We’re expanding our operations in the UK, and will be looking at how we can make all our stores and other routes to customers truly sustainable. To ensure we have truly net positive impacts we’ll be engaging with a broad range of stakeholders to co-create new ways of designing and operating our business – this will take into account new store formats, ever-changing shopping habits, customer values, retail experience, and different forms of accessibility. None of us know exactly what this will look like – which is daunting but hugely energizing!

What motivates you?

Knowing we can help millions of customers across the country to live a more sustainable lifestyle everyday really motivates me.

We know that the vast majority of people would like to live more sustainably, so it’s great to be working in a context where we can help make this way of life more affordable, accessible and attractive.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

IKEA has that Swedish humbleness; we don’t tend to talk about what we do – we just get on with it. When I was first approached by IKEA about this role, I was generally shocked to hear about so many of the amazing things they were doing.

I’ve enjoyed encouraging the company to communicating more about the amazing stuff that we’re doing (including entering awards!) – I’m so proud of the work we do and hopefully it encourages other companies to push sustainability up their agenda.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

We can do simple day-to day-things like eating less meat, even if you consume meat fewer times a week, over your lifetime that will make a huge difference. Food waste is also a really easy one to work on; we throw out one third of our food, which is just nuts. If we were just to be more organized with food and more creative with leftovers we would see a massive improvement.

I would always suggest that people go solar whenever they can – you’re not going to get a better return investment than this. Or if you can’t invest yourself, even if you switch to a 100% renewable energy supplier at home will help, it’s a one-time phone call and you’ll never have to think about it again.

Always challenge people on where things come from, how they’re made and what other things are being done on your behalf. Whether it’s the organisation you work for or that represents you, or the party you vote for – make sure you always challenge them and ask questions. Always show support and make it known what kind of future you want, rather than just sit there silently waiting for it to happen.

If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?

I would set up community renewable schemes so that individuals could have a stake in renewable energy, like they do in Denmark.

And I’d create opportunities across the country for people to experience as many realities of a more sustainable way of life as possible – from transport to food, a sharing economy to time-banks. I’d try to help as many people as possible get a taste of this way of life and build confidence in the upside of a low-carbon future. I think the role of government should be

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across?

The Teslaelectric sports car.I don’t drive and am not at all fond of cars – they’re hugely detrimental to our environment and our communities. But going for a ride in a TESLA was extraordinary. It’s so powerful and so quiet – like sitting in a manta ray! It instantly destroyed all those arguments about green being rubbish or dull. We CAN and must create sustainable alternatives that are exciting and sexy.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I read it in one sitting during Spring in Cornwall, and after I’d finished reading about the post-apocalyptic struggle for survival I had to go outside and check things were still growing. I walked gratefully through fields and fields of daffodils. Just seeing life and growth around me after reading that book was an in my face emotional reminder of how completely dependent we are on our eco-system.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

My toddler babbling away!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

‘Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good’, basically just get on with it and do something rather than passing up opportunities while you wait for the perfect solution.

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?

Barack Obama – he’s made at least one statement or action on climate change every 4.5 days this year in challenging circumstances. Respect!


If you’d like to find out more about IKEA’s products and sustainability initiativesvisit their websiteorfollowthem on Instagram.