Tue. Dec 7th, 2021


COP26 has brought many promises and commitments from companies on tackling climate change. But sifting through those who are genuine and those who wash green is not easy.

Even the best companies for sustainability can struggle to keep promises. Take Ikea, the flat-pack furniture retailer that is one of the world’s largest buyers of wood. Non-governmental organizations recognize it as one of the more enlightened companies on environmental challenges, as it aims to become “climate positive” on emissions by 2030. And yet it still had problems in its supply chain.

Earthsight, a UK-based campaign group, has published research twice in the last 18 months assert concerns about wood from Russia and Ukraine that he said has entered Ikea’s supply chains. Earthsight claims the wood was cut down in violation of permits and permitted practices.

“They are one of the best in terms of understanding where their wood comes from and traces it back to the forest. . . If Ikea fails, everyone will probably fail, ”says Sam Lawson, director of Earthsight.

Ikea rejects any proposal that it has knowingly accepted illegal wood. But Jon Abrahamsson Ring, probably the most powerful man in the vast Ikea empire as CEO of the brand’s owner, Inter Ikea, admits that responsible forestry management is “a very complex subject”.

Ikea, which was founded in the forests of southern Sweden, although it is now based in the Netherlands, argues that wood is a sustainable and renewable material that is much better to use than plastic or metal. This is partly an attempt to counter the argument that Ikea is fueling. disposable consumption by making cheap furniture.

But making sure wood is cut down correctly is far from a simple matter. Wood suppliers may have permits for certain areas, but then log illegally in a neighboring forest. Another issue is the abuse of the practice known as sanitary felling, where all trees in an area are cut down to protect them from disease or after a disaster such as wind damage.

Ikea relies on three layers of protection in its timber supply chain, according to Ulf Johansson, timber supply and forestry manager at Inter Ikea. Suppliers must submit an annual timber procurement plan; a team of 40 internal wood supply specialists performs about 200 audits each year; and Ikea also uses third-party auditors, both in announced and unannounced visits. It also uses certification by Forest Stewardship Council as an “additional protection”.

Johansson emphasizes: “Responsible forest management is critical to our business. This is not something we can delegate to anyone else. It is only our responsibility to make sure we only use wood from responsible sources. ”

But something went wrong in Russia. Ikea insists it is “actively working to ensure” that no illegal timber enters its supply chain, but admits that “violations” associated with sanitary felling permits. So not only did it ban the companies at the core of the Earthsight claims, it also temporarily banned use of timber from sanitary felling throughout Siberia and the Russian Far East.

There are questions about why Ikea acquires large parts of its forest from countries such as Russia, Belarus and China rather than relying on more expensive countries closer to its base.

Johansson says Ikea is doing more audits in Russia as it is classified as a “high-risk country”. But he claims that the group has many suppliers there with whom he has worked for many years and that “we trust”. Ikea can probably get all its wood from Sweden and Finland in time, but believes “very strongly that we can do more good by staying and driving our forestry agenda”, he adds. If it exposes wrongdoing, it leaves the supplier off.

More so, there is a question as to how far Ikea’s responsibility extends. Both Johansson and Ring say it is not just about Ikea’s own supply chain, but about making responsible forestry management the norm in the industry. Lawson believes Ikea should go further to intensify supplier auditing and eradicate bad practices.

“I often ask companies: Do you want to look good, or be good? To look good is to trade with your own supply chains. To be good is to take responsibility for the whole industry. This is the question that Ikea should ask itself, ”says the Earthsight director. As more companies struggle with the fine details of sustainability promises, it is unlikely that Ikea will be the only one to meet this challenge.

richard.milne@ft.com

Twitter: @rmilneNordic





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