Steve Howard: Let’s go all-in on selling sustainability

Ikea chief sustainability officer Steve Howard is a life long social entrepreneur in the field of sustainability. In this talk he outlines his involvement with using existing supply chains to allow businesses to positively impact global issues.

With more global problems hitting the news every day – from climate change to child labour, it is becoming painfully obvious that we as a species cannot continue on the current path without facing consequences of our actions. Steve presents just three numbers that will test our resilience and enterprise in the coming decades:

“Sustainability has gone from a “nice to do” to a “must do”

There is no doubt that there needs to be a decisive and consistent action to avoid the negative effects of global warming and alleviate the problems arising from the increase in the human population. He uses the example of the light bulb to illustrate that consumer choice alone is not enough to effectively spread sustainable technology and make it a standard. The LED lights which use a fraction of energy compared to the incandescent or halogen ones so far has been perceived by customers as an expensive “investment”. Given a choice of the cheap bulb vs the LED many would still choose the old style bulb partly because we tend to see the price tag of the bulb, but rarely we see the difference in energy use. Few houses are equipped with energy monitors and it would require a habit change to allow consumers to force businesses to stop selling the inefficient option. The government has already taken steps to adopt this technology and produced an extensive report on the economic and environmental impact of switching to LED’s.

With the government willing and able to push for the changes all that would be needed is a simple legislation banning old style bulbs, but that not always is the best thing to do. Another intervention from the government carries the risk of being perceived negatively by the business community. Steve is suggesting that business people themselves ought to lead the change. Instead of clinging to old stock that needs to be sold, push their suppliers to come up with cost effective methods of production and set strict targets to completely shift to selling only the sustainable products. This way they can be made available to the consumer at a retail price that intuitively looks like the best option.

There are plethora of areas that need and can be made sustainable and Steve uses examples from IKEA to illustrate how technology innovations are the solution to our growing pains.

The take-away point for me and my colleagues working in the supply chain is that we have the power to change the future of our planet and leave it in a better state than we have found it. With many of us having families with children, it is imperative that we help create a future for them, so that when they grow up they can say with pride – “My dad/mom helped save the world!”

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