I’ve always felt proud and grateful that whenever I’ve been asked by dinner hosts if I have any dietary requirements, I’ve invariably let out a hearty “I eat ANYTHING!” in response.
Eating anything was how I ventured out into the world, exploring different cultures, stories and beliefs through the wild array of ingredients and dishes that define us. Eating anything was a submission to something greater than myself. Eating anything opened doors, started conversations, created intimacy, and – ultimately – meant I never went hungry.
But eating anything is a privilege. Faced with an abundance of choice, I was failing to make any. Compared with other aspects of my life in which I actively participated in the world around me, and made choices that benefited more than myself, food had somehow passed me by. Yet making better choices about what we eat can have a significantly positive impact on our health, and the health of the planet.
So about a year and a half ago, I became a “flexitarian”. It means that I choose to eat more of a plant-based diet, and consciously decide when to have meat and fish when I can be sure it’s sourced and prepared in the most sustainable way available; I’m flexible, within some clear choice parameters.
The more you look, the more you see people eating this way – a form of vegetarianism with its roots in animal welfare, and its branches in the increasing awareness that a high level of meat consumption is incompatible with sustainable living. It’s no surprise, then, that food is firmly on the agenda for IKEA with some bold new commitments to become people and planet positive by 2030.
This summer will see the launch of the vegetarian hotdog in IKEA stores around the world. The reboot of a ubiquitous staple – much-loved by shopping-weary parents with hysterical kids – has become a bit of an emblem for all the things going on behind the scenes at IKEA to make it easier than ever before for people to make better choices. Because one of the founding principles of this new people and planet roadmap is that sustainability should never be a compromise – not on quality, on accessibility, on design, or on cost. Or, in the case of the hotdog, on taste.
So how does a brand like IKEA become people and planet positive by 2030? It’s going to take a lot more than vegetarian hotdogs, that’s for sure. It starts with a continuation of the work we’ve done previously within three big and connected change drivers: the resources we use, the communities we’re in, and the sustainable lifestyle choices we make. This work is firmly rooted in our longstanding vision to create a better everyday life.
As expected, we’ve set some new and stretching targets across the business to hold ourselves to account. But I believe there are also two game-changing shifts in the speed and intensity of our actions which made even me – an eternal optimist – gasp slightly.
The first is the standout commitment to inspire and enable one billion people to live healthy and sustainable lives within the limits of the planet by 2030. With as much as a third of total global energy use is consumed by households, along with 10 per cent of water, it’s clear that healthy and sustainable living needs to focus on the home. So this is a movement rooted in practical stuff (such as affordable products which enable people to save water, reduce their energy, and even grow their own veggies), but with all eyes on the blue-sky thinking needed to achieve this audacious goal.
This means that if you pop along to an IKEA store today, you might be surprised by the number of items already available which have sustainability built-in, like food storage bags made from sugar cane, kitchen fronts made from recycled PET bottles and FSC certified recycled wood, or table-top hydroponics kits for home-grown greens, just to name a few. But to really accelerate our design thinking, and reach one billion people, we’re also launching 10 innovation labs all around the world by 2020, to co-create bold new sustainable ideas with anyone who wants to get involved.
The second – which is fundamental to succeeding in the first – is our total commitment to circularity. This means that IKEA will become a truly circular business, starting by designing all new products from the very beginning to be repurposed, repaired, reused, resold, and recycled, thereby generating little-to-no waste. In fact, by 2030, the ambition is that every product and its packaging will be based on renewable and recycled materials, meaning that IKEA products will effectively become material banks for the future. To support this, we’ll be developing services that will make it easier than ever for people to buy, care for, and pass on their items. Depending on where you live today, you may have already discovered some of our popular repair and take-back services in countries like Belgium, Sweden and Japan.
There’s a sobering backdrop to this. Recently we partnered with GlobeScan to do some research into climate action – we surveyed more than 14,000 people in 14 countries to understand more about how people feel about climate change and how it plays out in their daily lives. We found that most people acknowledge climate change, and express worry about it, but it remains a fairly distant problem in their daily lives. If you ask people for their spontaneous views on it, you tend to get responses that span the destruction spectrum, from melting ice-caps to extreme weather events. In our research, only three per cent of people pointed to solutions unprompted. The overwhelming majority of people just can’t picture what a climate-friendly future looks like.
That's why we’re rolling up our sleeves and working on creating more solutions as quickly as we can; that's why we’re painting an inspiring picture of a climate-friendly future; and that’s why we’re doing our part to create more choices. But at the end of the day, my friends, we all have to make the better one.
I mean, there’s no reason why being a flexitarian can’t extend beyond food. Imagine the positive repercussions if we all used similar choice parameters for everything that makes up our everyday lives, from the way we furnish our homes to the way we get around. There are already so many better choices available, and there will be even more to come – don’t let them pass you by.
So here’s to vegetarian hotdogs, and all the better choices this sustainable snack ushers in.