As TED 2014 is happening in Vancouver next week, I thought it might be good to spend some time listening to inspiring talks from previous conferences. One of them caught my attention more than the others: Steve Howard at TEDGlobal 2013. Here is an article summing up his main points.
Howard is the chief sustainability officer at Ikea, which, as you know, is a multinational company putting sustainability as a top priority. His talk is inspiring, as he takes Ikea as a proof that sustainability is good for companies and gives guidelines to everybody to put sustainability as a leading force in our choices.
Sustainability has gone from a nice-to-do to a must-do.
First, Howard invites all companies to want to have a positive impact on the world. Customers will buy sustainable products if they are convenient and efficient, and if they reduce their switching costs (the first sustainable products were clearly not working well, so why would a customer sacrifice his comfort, his habits, and put sustainability first when he already has a lot of thinks to think about?). There, Howard insists on having choices today when making products. “So let’s make beautiful, functional, affordable, sustainable products”, says Howard. LEDs are a great example, they’re working well, they give a nice lightning, and they last so long! And Ikea decided to ban other lightning systems and to go 100% with LEDs, thus saving energy, making economies of scale and lowering costs for the company as well as customers.
Beyond products, companies have to take into consideration the raw materials they use in their products, and using recycled materials is a great opportunity to go zero waste. But companies will still need natural, raw materials, and there is an opportunity here, for example with cotton, to make the production process of those materials better. Companies can partner with NGOs, as Ikea did with the Better Cotton Initiative, to improve the rights of producers (farmers), working directly with them, helping them lower their costs by making the production process less water- and pesticides-consuming. this leads to higher yields and lower costs, thus helping farmers coming out of poverty. Same for wood. Ikea chose to work with responsible forestry and with the Forest Stewardship Council, thus using certified materials.
Howard insists on using the supply chain to drive good, and this relates to the class we had a couple of weeks ago on sustainable product design: sustainable harvesting and mining practices (with cotton), recycled content, energy and fuel efficient (by 2020, Ikea will produce more renewable energy than the energy they consume as a business), etc.
Finally, Steve Howard raises a point that I find very inspiring. You won’t progress if you don’t measure anything. It is often said “you can manage what you measure”, right? Well our speaker has an even more engaging argument:
Measure what you care about and lead the change, and don’t wait a hundred years.
This is what Ikea is doing to close the gap between men and women at work, in management especially. And, as much as it is inspiring, but also reassuring, to see that big companies are taking action, Steve Howard finishes with a point we all agree on (in our class):
(…) everybody can do something on [sustainability] as an individual. Be a discerning consumer. Vote with your wallets. Search out the companies that are working on this. (…)
And together, we can help create a sustainable world, and, if we get it right, we can make sustainability affordable for the many people, not a luxury for the few.
I hope you found it as inspiring as I did. I wouldn’t say his ideas are new, but he managed to concentrate in one speech the main arguments to go all-in with sustainability and to get involved in taking complete actions (by this, I mean not going half-way, but really putting all you possibly can to achieve a 100% success) and to make sustainability a reality, and not only a dream anymore.