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Furniture retailer supports green movement with assertive recycling programs

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The concept of going green is not an option for individuals, businesses and corporations. In today's world, it's become a mandate, a term associated with the very existence of life, and a mantel picked up by organizations such as Ikea. It applies to all levels of existence, from what we eat to how we tote our purchases.

Large retailers such as Ikea, which rely heavily on the manufacturing of many different products that require the use of natural raw materials, have thoroughly embraced the green concept and have made a concerted effort to include it as an integral part of its business model. And Ikea hasn't stopped there. The company has implemented policy that now requires a customer to pay a minimal amount for a plastic bag, a strategy that encourages customers to recognize the need to participate in the green movement.

"Ikea is a leader in setting high environmental standards for its products," said Johnny Andersen of Ikea San Diego. "That means employing strict manufacturing methods and supply processes so that materials, technologies and transportation have the least damaging effects on the environment."

Ikea suppliers, noted Andersen, are required to adhere to a list of approved chemical compounds and substances in the breakdown of its products and must work to reduce waste and emissions. They must handle chemicals and hazardous wastes in an environmentally safe manner and they must contribute to the recycling and reuse of materials and products.

"We also have established Trading Service Offices to support and monitor suppliers in their efforts to upgrade and improve their operations and compliance," Andersen said. "We agree to work with suppliers who are willing to develop a plan of action that is consistent with Ikea's requirements so that we can establish a productive, long-term relationship with them."

Andersen said Ikea strongly believes in the notion that people's mindsets and attitudes can be changed by spreading knowledge and information. This is why the company educates its suppliers about the environment through educational programs and seminars.

All of its products are moved from suppliers to stores worldwide by road, rail and sea, which impacts the environment primarily through emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants. In the interest of both efficiency and environmental responsibility, Andersen said, the company makes demands on freight forwarders to use more modern vehicles, cleaner fuels, drivers tutored in fuel-efficient driving techniques, and education and training related to environmental policies.

"And we do this ourselves in the most proactive way," he said.

Ikea's waste reduction and recycling programs is one of the most assertive in the nation. The company's innovative flat-packaging system reduces transportation costs and fuel emissions. Also, Ikea's seasonal food drives give back to the San Diego community, and its recovery department repackages usable pieces of damaged products to be resold.

"We offer incentives of free meals to our customers," Andersen said, to bring in old newspapers that we use for wrapping customers' purchases. This reduces our own newspaper waste."

In addition, Ikea customarily recycles light bulbs, batteries, cans/bottles, cardboard, wood, metal and even furniture labeled "as is." The company's environmental committee convenes monthly to discuss social and environmental issues.

"Our local green policy is consistent with Ikea's 60 years of dedication to the world's environment," he said.

According to Andersen, "our recycling program continually asks workers and suppliers if the company is systematically reducing its dependency on mining and nonrenewable resources. Is it reducing the use of long-lasting, unnatural substances? Is it reducing its affect on nature and nature's functions? And is it reducing unnecessary use of resources? As long as these answers are affirmative, Ikea is reasonably certain its policies are being followed and its commitment to environmental protection remains strong and intact," he said.

To be sure its message is being conveyed, the company provides environmental training to all new employees and regularly provides co-workers with updated environmental information to keep them ahead of the green curve.

"I think we're all beginning to see that there is no longer an endless supply of natural raw materials on our planet," Andersen said, "so as part of our environmental responsibility, we have to begin taking measures into our own hands to preserve the resources that remain. It's part of our vision and we recognize that future generations are relying on it."

Dennis Ellman is founder of Beck Ellman Heald agency.

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