The crisis that brought out the best in IKEA
IKEA UK donated over 130,000 products to good causes during the pandemic
“Home” is what IKEA does. So with a nation staying at home for most of 2020, the furniture icon found itself in a unique position to help – and what it achieved is truly remarkable.
Even the most forward-thinking visionaries would have had a hard time conceiving of how the world changed last year. When IKEA’s late founder Ingvar Kamprad said, “A crisis brings out the best in us”, he couldn’t have imagined the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic and its knock-on effects for his business, nor how prescient his words would turn out to be.
Like so many businesses, IKEA faced enormous challenges as social distancing measures were introduced and stores closed during lockdown. But amid all the disruption and hardship caused by the pandemic, the company saw an opportunity to support society’s most vulnerable, as figures from its recently released annual report make clear.
IKEA’s co-workers at all levels have long been encouraged to live and breathe the company’s key brand value of “togetherness”, and in 2020, they worked with each other, with charities and with local leaders to solve some of the problems faced by communities up and down the country.
This included donating 130,000 IKEA products – including beds, mattresses, towels, lighting, chairs, toys and food – to local communities, with 50,000 IKEA tape measures being used by NHS intensive care units to analyse lung capacity in COVID patients. Thousands of care packs were sent to vulnerable families and in total, in-kind emergency support donations totalled a staggering £1.3m.
Among the 47 organisations supported by such donations were local hospitals, schools, care homes and councils, as well as charities such as Red Cross and Breaking Barriers. Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan, calls IKEA’s support “instrumental” in the charity’s overall COVID response, adding: “Their product donations have reached over 8,400 children and young people in the UK and Ireland.”
Meanwhile in Greenwich, a new children’s home was established in just four weeks, designed to keep vulnerable young people safe as the crisis unfolded. In an act that exemplified the company’s response to the pandemic, IKEA “generously donated the furniture and everything else needed to make a comfortable home”, in the words of a Royal Borough of Greenwich spokesperson.
“Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, 2020 showed us that our values and our core beliefs are in the right place,” writes Peter Jelkeby, Country Retail Manager and Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA UK and Ireland, in the company’s annual report.
“All of the learnings and changes from the year fuel our ambition to continue creating a better everyday life for the many and to become truly people and planet positive, as we look to build back better in 2021.”
IKEA’s efforts have also caught the attention of national leaders. Valerie Vaz, MP for Walsall South, commented: “Throughout the pandemic, many businesses have stepped up to support local communities at a time of need. IKEA Wednesbury has been established in my constituency since 1991 and employs over 500 staff from the local area. I visited the store recently and tried IKEA’s delicious [new] plantballs, which are eco-friendly with a climate footprint of only 4% of the classic meatball.
“I [also] spoke to the staff to hear about the important community work they do. They should be commended for helping to keep the economy going during lockdown, [and for] providing much needed support for local charities including Barnardo’s and Alzheimer’s Society.”
But IKEA’s green credentials go beyond the humble plantball, because in a year when it might have been easy for the business to lose sight of its sustainability goals, IKEA ramped up its efforts to help tackle climate change.
In 2020, it sold a staggering 63 million People and Planet Positive products (meaning they are either made from sustainably sourced and recycled materials, or that they help customers save water, energy and waste) in the UK, representing 30% of the total volume of products sold.
And while perhaps it’s unsurprising, given the circumstances, that energy and water usage were both down compared to 2019, what’s impressive is that of the total energy that was used by IKEA, 73% came from renewable sources, with 100% of electricity coming from renewables.
These are important strides towards IKEA’s goal of becoming fully circular by 2030, which it plans to achieve in part by decarbonising its operations and supply chains. Keen to share its learnings and knowledge on the subject with other retailers, the company also spent time last year collaborating with the British Retail Consortium to develop a Climate Action Roadmap of the journey to Net Zero and beyond.
All of this has been achieved against a backdrop of IKEA’s commitment to its own people, with the company’s co-workers receiving 100% of their salary throughout store closures, and an emergency fund being established for those co-workers experiencing hardship as a result of the pandemic.
With its people taken care of and a lifting of lockdown finally in sight, IKEA is looking to the future – and its priority is to continue tackling climate change, as well as the wellbeing and equality challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.
By capitalising on the current momentum and maintaining the sense of urgency that drove its co-workers to serve local communities so well over the past year, it hopes to create a kinder future for everyone.
To read the annual report, click here