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IKEA Vows All Solar and Wind Power by 2020

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Ikea’s 31st solar installation, in Bloomington, Minn. (image via Ikea)

Putting more in than it takes out – across the board, that’s a key aspect of the bold sustainability plan the furniture giant IKEA says it will pursue over the next several years.

The company on Tuesday vowed that by 2020 it will produce more renewable energy than it consumes in its stores and buildings. But what about all the trees felled for desks, book shelves, dining tables and chairs? It will plant more than it uses. Likewise with water: The company says that its overall water credit from all activities along the entire value chain will be greater than its water debit.

IKEA is already roaring forward on many of these goals: It has wind farms in six countries and has been blanketing store roof after store roof with solar panels at a furious pace. The solar and wind systems in operation or under construction already meet 27 percent of the company’s electricity demand.

On the consumer side, Ikea announced earlier this month that by 2016, it will sell only LED bulbs and lamps, completely phasing all other lighting options out of its inventory.

Despite the progress it has already made, it will be quite a feat if IKEA can pull this off, because one thing it’s not planning on doing is becoming smaller. “People & Planet Positive,” its strategy paper for sustainability (available online as a PDF), forecasts that the company will grow to “around 500″ stores by 2020 (it’s at around 300 now). But IKEA is bringing something of a messianic zeal — or so it sounds — to the task, as it also aims to turn the very products it sells into tools for sustainability, with super-efficient but inexpensive appliances, energy-miser light bulbs and more.

“We believe that sustainability should not be a luxury good – it should be affordable for everyone,” Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard said in a statement. “With over 770 million visitors to our stores, we are excited by the opportunity to help our customers fulfill their dreams at home with beautiful products that help them save money on their household bills by reducing energy and water use, as well as reducing waste.”

While there’s an obvious marketing payoff to the IKEA strategy — don’t you feel all warm and fuzzy about the company right now? — costs and risks do accompany the full-on commitment to sustainability.

IKEA says it is halfway toward investing 1.5 billion euros into solar and wind by 2015, so that’s around a billion dollars more in the next two or three years. On the compliance front, the company said it will meet a range of standards on environmental and social impact and working conditions. That could translate to less flexibility in purchasing as it seeks out certified wood and cotton, and reduces use of palm oil and leather. As the Wall Street Journal, ever mindful of the bottom line, reported: “Marketing and using more sustainable products promises to be a challenge for IKEA’s purchasing managers, who are under pressure to keep costs in check. The company has long aimed to keep prices low.”

But environmentalists said it was the kind of bold action required. John Sauven, head of Greenpeace UK, told Reuters the plan “puts IKEA at the forefront of leading companies” taking on the climate-change challenge.

—Pete Danko

This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission.