No one wakes up wanting to harm the planet
Pia Huusfelt. Business Leader of Circular Economy, Transformation & Innovation.
I am in the fortunate position of being both resident of the private home of one of Scandinavia’s most famous original exports, the designer Arne Jacobsen, and a member of the leadership team defining the future thinking of perhaps Scandinavia’s most influential current flagbearer, the retail division of IKEA.
There are two billion more middle class citizens expected on a planet whose resources are already being depleted at an astonishing rate. As the world’s largest furniture and homewares company we have a responsibility to address this accelerating challenge. In my role, I have asked myself and my team how will people live in the future, how can they do so without impacting the environment, and what is our role in enabling this.
Through our research we have uncovered some universal themes; that many people are becoming most at home when they are connected to the internet rather than behind four walls, and that single-person households together with feelings of loneliness and unbelonging are steadily growing. These are powerful trends away from more conventional thoughts about the role of the home and of community.
What also emerges is the insight that no one wants to be wasteful or wakes up thinking I want to damage the planet. People see the value in things and want to be responsible with what they buy and throw away, but they don’t always know how. Current consumption and disposal habits result from lack of knowledge, but when people understand, then they adapt. These lessons have had a profound impact on my own feelings about society and sustainability.
Our vision remains unchanged – to create a better everyday life for the many people. What is changing is how we think about production and consumption, and how we move from a linear model of ‘take-make-waste’ to one of circularity – in which the process of production, use and disposal becomes a closed loop where materials, waste, pollution and carbon emissions are either minimized, removed or renewed.
The thought that waste is a sin has been central to our values since we opened our doors, and it is this philosophy that guides our thinking for the future; of how we can adapt our own methods of production to reduce our footprint, and how we can extend product life so it stays in the loop. This means rethinking our entire business and design practices to help customers find us more easily, to help them not only construct their own furniture inexpensively but also to care for it, disassemble it, and turn it into something new. Or pass it on. Or simply just rent it instead.
This mindset of continuous improvement, of a constant, nagging feeling that things could be better and we need to find out why, is hard-wired into our thinking and, while IKEA is a truly global company, this restlessness is very true to our Swedish origins. I would go as far as to say, I think our Scandinavian DNA makes us better equipped to succeed.
The Scandinavian region has a better foundation than most to enable positive change.
The Scandinavian region has a better foundation than most to enable positive change; there is the social cohesion and can-do mindset, high education and equality standards, higher levels of trust and lower levels of corruption, and leading edge infrastructure and technology. This social system is designed for all, the richer contributing a bit more but everyone playing their role. It’s a great place to make change happen and, now that there is a broad international awareness of human impact on the environment, I am confident Scandinavia, and IKEA, can lead the way in finding solutions.
When I look ahead, I see a future of fundamental change, where new forms of raw materials emerge to replace exhausted ones, where global supply chains are dismantled in favour of local production, where individual consumption falls and community sharing becomes the norm, and where progressive thinking and integrated technologies help enable it all.
I believe the countries we can learn the most from are the ones usually considered to be far behind us. The Indian subcontinent and emerging countries in Africa have a long history of share, repair, rent, recycle and renewal, as well as strong values around collectiveness, community and connection to nature. While their approach often results from necessity, if we can modernize and reapply these timeless values, then the world can benefit from some very positive – and necessary – human change.
It brings to mind the architect of my home and the legacy he, and the other Scandinavian Modern designers, left to the world. When people do things with passion, soul, and attention to detail, the results can be transformative and enduring.