Whenever there is any discussion about going "green," the term used for sustainable design and construction practices that minimize impacts on the environment, it is usually in reference to new or existing buildings. But the term is also being applied now to other sectors like industry, where manufacturing and supply processes are becoming an important part of the movement's growing popularity and political correctness.
Large retailers like 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.
"IKEA is a leader in setting high environmental standards for its products," explained Rene Hausler, a partner in the independently-owned IKEA San Diego franchise. "That means employing strict manufacturing methods and supply processes so that materials, technologies and transportation have the least damaging effects on the environment."
Hausler cites as examples the measures the global corporation takes when it comes to obtaining wood and wood fibers for the manufacture of products like tables, chairs, desks and bookcases. He says the company is very strict about sourcing its wood from verifiably managed forests and has processes in place to actually trace the timber used in manufacturing back to where it was felled in order to ascertain its origin. That way, it can ensure that its products are not made from illegally felled trees or from intact natural forests, national parks or nature reserves.
The company is also part of a cooperative with organizations like Global Forest Watch and the World Wide Fund for Nature to promote responsible forestry that will help sustain the supply of wood and wood materials for generations to come.
Hausler added that these restrictions also apply to the corporation's suppliers, who must comply with national and international laws and regulations concerning the protection of the environment. That includes minimizing damaging effects to the environment as a result of their business and reducing impacts of their operation.
IKEA suppliers are required to adhere to a list of approved chemical compounds and substances in the manufacture 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 re-use 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," Hausler 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."
Hausler says IKEA believes strongly in the notion that people's mindsets and attitudes can be changed by spreading knowledge and information, so it 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 on the environment primarily through emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants. In the interest of both efficiency and environmental responsibility, Hausler 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.
The entire green process trickles down from the top of the organization, as evidenced by the corporation's commitment to environmental quality, a mission and formal action plan adopted by its board of directors nearly 15 years ago. Called "Green Steps," the plan is based on several key elements that are posed to each and every employee in the form of questions.
According to Hausler, "the program continually asks workers and suppliers if the company is systematically reducing its dependency on mining and non-renewable resources? Is it reducing the use of long-lasting, unnatural substances? Is it reducing its encroachment 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.
Just to be sure that its message is getting across, 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. To reinforce the value and importance of the message, IKEA has also established an internal Environmental Council that reviews and monitors the company's environmental policies and ensures that all business plans and reports address these measures and the costs associated with implementing the Green Steps program.
"I think we're all beginning to see that there is no longer an endless supply of natural raw materials on our planet," Hausler 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."
Barrett is a staff writer at Beck Ellman Heald agency.