Customers Line Up For Opening Of Ikea Store In Colorado

Some of the most promising climate-friendly innovations are already out there on the market, they just need to be brought to scale. And large companies can be instrumental in that role, as even minor modifications to production and distribution reverberate across massive global supply chains.

“Even the most innovative companies find it difficult to innovate,” said Ikea Chief Sustainability Officer Steven Howard at the Low Carbon Innovators Forum, part of Climate Week NYC. “What we can do is scale things.” For a company like Ikea, that controls the business from manufacturing to retail, “you can make choices that change the entire supply chain.”

Nike, similarly, is taking steps to use existing technology in ways that could dramatically alter its procurement process, and by extension, the network of suppliers from which it sources its materials. The company is working with Netherlands-based DyeCoo to scale up the use of a textile dyeing process that uses CO2 in lieu of water. DyeCoo says its process uses no water, no auxiliary chemicals, less energy and is twice as fast as traditional dyeing.

Around a third of Nike’s carbon footprint is in materials manufacturing, and a large share of that is related to water use for the dyeing process, said Hannah Jones, Nike’s Vice-President of Sustainable Business and Innovation. “If we can scale up DyeCoo, we can change the entire materials industry,” Jones said. “Incrementalism is important if you can scale it.”

For companies like Hewlett Packard, opportunities for reducing waste relate, in large part, to electricity needs for computing and data storage. There has been, and will continue to be, “an enormous multiplication of the needs of the planet for information and information technology”, said Chris Librie, Senior Director of Sustainability Programs for Hewlett-Packard. “Continuing to meet those needs without innovation is unsustainable.” HP has designed a server that is 80% smaller and 89% more energy efficient than previous models.

And Facebook is working with HP and other suppliers of computer equipment to retool its data centers and servers to reduce its environmental footprint. The company is actively involved in efforts to redesign those components of its business to be more energy efficient. Instead of keeping its designs in-house, Facebook has opened up the process to the public through a project called Open Compute, “so that we can leverage all the smart people out there”, said Facebook Sustainability Guru Bill Weihl.

More energy efficient data centers can result in significant savings on energy costs, but they are not critical to Facebook’s competitive advantage, Weihl said. “We’re agnostic as to where the ideas come from.”

Using Less and Getting More

But innovations cannot come at the expense of quality and performance. “Everybody has to win,” said Jones.

Businesses cannot meet their sustainability goals by offering consumers products that they don’t want, or are cost-prohibitive for many. “This is not about creating the green premium range,” said Howard.

Ikea has taken steps to move towards more energy efficient products that, while potentially more expensive up-front, offer a quick payback period in energy bills saved, such as LED lighting and induction stoves. “It wastes about half as much energy as a traditional electric cooker, but it cooks faster. You can watch a kettle boil,” Howard said.

“With simple things like induction hubs and pressure cookers, [families] could save 2 days a year. So you could save money, you can save the environment, you can cook cooler, you can cook faster, you can have two days a year of your life back to do something else with. That’s the sort of green revolution we want,” said Howard.

“We can’t compromise performance,” said Weihl. “Our goal is not to take shorter showers or drink warm beer.”