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IKEA and Ikeasustainable wood

In November 1999 the Swedish furniture company IKEA announced at a press conference in Brussels, held jointly with environmental campaign group Greenpeace, that it was taking action to ensure none of its products were made from wood that came from ancient forests.

Susanne Pulverer Bergstrand, IKEA Group’s Environmental Manager told journalists that as a first step all solid wooden products would come from well-managed forests.

This was a highly significant announcement for the international retailer. The positive media coverage it generated pointed out that IKEA was amongst the first major retailers to make such a commitment.

But why had IKEA made the move? The decision came after increased pressure from environmentalists on wood consuming industries to take action and stop the exploitation of ancient forests. Organisations like Greenpeace were raising awareness of forest destruction on a massive scale to supply cheap sources of wood and paper. The industry was blamed for threatening whole eco-systems. Images of devastation from the Amazon and stories of near extinction for Oran Utang and Mountain Gorilla were carried by TV and newspapers.

In making their announcement first, IKEA was able to positively ally itself to the wide public concern growing throughout its main markets in Europe. IKEA customers could be reassured that in buying from them they were not contributing to forest destruction. Renowned as tough opponents, Greenpeace praised the move and used it as a positive encouragement to others - IKEA’s competitors.

Whilst the announcement was fairly easy to make it represented, nevertheless, a major undertaking for IKEA. It could not be achieved overnight and required liaison with dozens of suppliers. Crucially however, it did not prevent IKEA from using highly prized exotic timber. Certified, sustainable harvesting of trees from natural forests (FSC) still allowed suppliers to source anything the retailer needed.

As a CSR initiative it had been a success. It had gained an advantage over competitors and secured a positive relationship with customers. Perhaps equally significantly, it had avoided damaging confrontations with campaigners.

Subsequently other retailers became high profile targets for protestors. But, it the wake of the IKEA move others found forest friendly practices were not only cost effective, but brought other business benefits.

Article by Rod Macrae, Macrae Media & Communication

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