The coronavirus pandemic makes moving towards a circular economy even more urgent, says IKEA's head of circular design Malin Nordin, as the company announces a strategic partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Nordin believes that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need to move away from linear design to a circular economy as it has made people more aware of the need for products to have longevity.
"It's a big shift that I would say has become even more important in terms of the pandemic," said Nordin. "We want to accelerate the shift."
"It has become even more important and relevant to take care of what you already have and prolong the life of products that you already have," she continued.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation advocates for a move to a circular economy by eradicating waste and pollution from manufacturing and consumerism by reusing resources. A report issued by the organisation states that 80 per cent of all materials are wasted in a linear economy.
The foundation's CEO Andrew Morlet explained the difference between a linear economy and a circular economy at Dezeen Day.
The home has become even more important
IKEA is looking at all 10,000 of is products to investigate how they can be designed to circular principles. Through its partnership with Ellen MacArthur Foundation it hopes to advocate for wider adoption of circular economic principles in its supply chain and further afield.
"What we realised quite quickly is that IKEA being a circular company on its own is quite pointless," explained Nordin. "We are interdependent of other businesses."
IKEA will promote the ideals to its supply chain, customers and designers, and the two organisations will develop a set of global definitions for terms surrounding circular design and aim to impact legislation.
Millions of people have spent considerably more time in their homes over the past couple of months due to lockdowns to slow the spread of coronavirus. Nordin hopes this will help costumers focus on the importance of circular design.
"We can see that from a consumer perspective, the home has become even more important – the safe home," said Nordin.
"How can I then have home furnishing solutions? How can I take care of what I have at home? These become even more important questions, which I think taps very clearly to the thinking of circular economy and how you prolong the life and take care of and use the things that you already have," she continued.
"So I think that fits very well."
We need to move forward after the pandemic
Although much of the world is now focused on the pandemic and its economic impact, IKEA will not use coronavirus as an excuse to reduce its sustainability commitments said Nordin.
"What is clear, and has been clearly pointed out from our CEO, is that we will not detour from our commitment to our sustainability agenda, especially around climate and our ambitions to be circular company by 2030," she said.
"It is really emphasising even more that we would like to accelerate [the move to a circular business] and have solutions for our customers sooner rather than later."
IKEA is committed to the European commission's green recovery package, which aims to use the rebuilding after the pandemic to focus on achieve climate goals.
"We don't want to go backwards, we need to move forward after the pandemic in an even more sustainable way," explained Nordin. "It's a great opportunity to do that."
Read below for an edited transcript of the interview with Malin Nordin:
Tom Ravenscroft: Why is IKEA trying to become a circular business?
Malin Nordin: For IKEA the journey started quite some time ago. We started off, as many do, very much focused on materials and renewable recycled materials. We looked at how can we close the loop within our own company – I think basically 10 years ago. But then around three years ago we began on a new direction. We want to be more affordable, we want to reach more people and also be a sustainable business.
How do we stay in tune with our customers and consumers? We want to reach more people and we could clearly see that continuing the linear economy would not be successful for us.
We are a huge user of materials, so how can we grow our business within the limits of the planet? So I think that was the starting point for us, to realise that we need to be a circular business. That needs to be the new normal for us.
So we put up a commitment that by 2030 we want our complete companies to be a circular business.
This shift for us is really impacting our complete business throughout our complete value chain from what type of material we use, how we change our business model, to where and how we want to meet our customers.
It's a big shift and I would say that it also becomes even more important, and we want to accelerate the shift – especially in terms of the situation we are now in, in terms of the pandemic. It has become even more important and relevant to take care of what you already have and prolong the life of products that you already have.
And I think from an affordability point of view, where more people will have less money to spend, or need to take different decisions on where to spend the money, that we have even more affordable solutions for for our customers.
Tom Ravenscroft: So the partnership is part of accelerating the shift towards being a circular company?
Malin Nordin: What we quite quickly realised is that for IKEA on its own being a circular company is quite pointless. We are interdependent of other businesses. We are interdependent off moving legislation, standardisation and definitions. We want as a company to have an impact in the society. For the many people to experience and we also see that we aren't going back to something we need to move forward. We need to move into a new economy.
We realised that Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a perfect match in that journey, with how they have transformed into being really a leader in this area. We can then help out each other. We can exemplify and create concrete examples of the impact on the business. Together with the MacArthur Foundation, we have an enormous platform. We can reach completely different stakeholders business and also, of course, have their strategic or other members.
Tom Ravenscroft: Why is this partnership happening now. It's kind of hard to not mention the pandemic. So how has the pandemic had an impact on IKEA's circular economy goals?
Malin Nordin: What we can, and what has been clearly pointed out from our CEO, is that we will not detour from our commitment to our sustainability agenda, especially around climate and our ambitions to be circular company by 2030.
And we can also see, that it is really emphasising even more so we would like add more to accelerate and have solutions for our customers rather sooner than later.
So that is than the message in the company. And I think especially now, as we also have also been part of signing the green recovery of EU we have a strong perspective that as a company, we want to not go backwards we need to move forward and tap into the after pandemic in an even more sustainable way. And it's a great, great opportunity to do that.
Tom Ravenscroft: Do you think your consumers they will be distracted by the pandemic? What is IKEA's role in in making sure people stay focused on something like circular design?
Malin Nordin: I think now to draw conclusions is a little bit early to understand where we are heading. And we right now don't have any, you know, specific facts or insights. But what we experience in the different conversations we have with our markets, we can see that from a consumer perspective, the importance of the home becomes even more important – the safe home.
How can I then have home furnishing solutions? How can I take care of what I have at home? These become even more important questions, which I think taps very clearly to the thinking of circular economy and how you prolong the life and take care of and use the things that you already have. So I think that fits very well.
And I think for us it's also sustainable solutions should not be for the few. And should not cost extra as we want to create a better everyday life for many people.
So our strong, low price and affordability becomes even more important now. So as I said, partnering with IKEA should be for everyone and it should become a new normal. And of course, we we can play an important role inspiring and showcasing examples of how to really put knowledge into practice.
Tom Ravenscroft: One of the starting points of the partnership between yourselves and MacArthur was creating the common dictionary. Is that right?
Malin Nordin: Now we have decided to be strategic partners to accelerate the transition. And it has always been important for both of us to be quite concrete and to find common ground and common areas. One is the transfer to circular design and really to start movement and change.
Another area where we could clearly see a need was a glossary of terms. What we both see is that there is a challenge when you're talking – especially in the industry – that we mean different things. So when we say for instance reuse for some it has some specific meaning and when you talk to another industry, it means something completely different. So what we found was stuck. Why don't we together, based on our learnings, see if we can then drive a more common language and a common way of talking about circularity.
Tom Ravenscroft: How does that tie in with the wider aims?
Malin Nordin: Of course the importance is that we become a workable, sustainable business. We can show that in such a big global company the key is the economy is you know. We can show a concrete example, that it works, we can also point out where we can see dilemmas and where it's challenging.
For instance, now as we are assessing our complete range of 10,000 articles. It comes back to the systematic shift where we then have identified design principles of how we see different product groups and categories how they are designed circular. We can then assess them and understand and get a concrete roadmap to 2030 and also understand where we need to be at make bigger investments within IKEA to shift the business.
If you don't design the products right from the beginning, it doesn't work in the end, it only drives costs throughout our value chain, and we are extremely cost conscious company.
So I think that is also really a good partnershi to understand those different dilemmas and the learnings that Ellen MacArthur already have in in other industries and other businesses.