IKEA, the world’s most popular purveyor of meatballs and medium-density fiberboard side tables, recently launched its “rustic/industrial” Winter 2012 collection. “Our designers took inspiration from public places, utilitarian function and down-to-earth materials to create many of the products arriving at IKEA this month,” proclaimed IKEA Design spokesperson Janice Simonsen in a news release.

Fabulous! However, once again, it seems that the flat-pack furnishings and home accessories sold in IKEA stores are playing second fiddle to the world-dominating mega-retailer’s non-merch-related activities. You know, erecting urban housing developments, launching boutique hotel chains, murdering books and such.

The latest announcement out of IKEA-land is a rather huge one and not entirely surprising considering the retailer’s tireless activity in the environmental sustainability department, which, most notably, has involved installing 342,000 solar panels atop its stores. Currently, 34 American IKEA stores and distribution centers boast solar arrays and there are several more underway. And more recently, IKEA has pledged to sell only low-priced LED bulbs and to convert all in-store lighting to LEDs by the year 2016. And let’s not forget that the Swedish-based retailer was the original banner of disposable shopping bags, at least in the American retail sector.

Now, as outlined in an ambitious new sustainability strategy dubbed People & Planet Positive, IKEA is striving toward complete energy independence. The company will produce as much energy as it consumes by the year 2020 through a $1.95 billion investment in solar and wind projects. In the shorter term, the company strives to harness 70 percent of its energy demand from renewable energy sources within the next three years.

In addition to the aforementioned PV arrays that produce as much as 27 percent of the company’s electricity, IKEA already owns wind farms in six European countries that, in 2011, generated 152 gigawatt hours of electricity. This is about 12 percent of the electricity needed to power retailer's stores and distribution centers.

So far, I'd say IKEA is off to an excellent start.

“We want to create a better every day for the many people. A better life includes living more sustainably, says IKEA Group CEO Mikael Ohlsson in a press release issued by the retailer. “We have been working towards that goal for many years and have already done a lot, and we are now ready to take the next big step. 'People & Planet Positive' will help us to do that; transforming our business and having an even greater positive impact on the world.” Ohlsson adds that his company is of the belief that "sustainability should not be a luxury good."

Designed to “protect the company from price shocks and tap into the consumers’ desire for a greener lifestyle” in the words of The Guardian, the People & Planet Positive plan doesn’t just entail a not-so-dramatic shift towards renewable energy sources and elevated efficiency. It’s a three-point strategy that also includes “offering products and solutions that help customers to save money by using less energy and water and reducing waste” along with “taking the lead in creating a better life for the people and communities, which includes supporting the development of good places to work throughout the IKEA Group supply chain.”

A few of the many non-energy-centric targets outlined in the strategy include sourcing half of the company's wood supply from FSC-certified forests (a bit of a controversial area for the wood-loving retailer) by 2017 and becoming completely "forest-positive" by 2020; boosting various recycling and waste-reduction schemes; engaging customers and co-workers through various eco-minded initiatives; promoting clean water projects; helping to reduce the carbon emissions of suppliers by 20 percent by the end of 2015 along with transportation-related emissions; and sourcing cotton that’s in line with the Better Cotton Initiative.

And in addition to phasing out non-efficient home appliances and lighting solutions that aren't LED over the next few years, by the end of 2015, the company aims to only use furnishing materials, packaging included, made from renewable, recycled or recyclable materials. Reads the strategy: "We will transform our entire range, making all of our products more sustainable. We will also develop and promote solutions that inspire and enable customers to live a more sustainable life at home, whether it is saving or producing energy, accessing clean water or sorting waste."

IKEA's humanitarian efforts will also continue, stronger than ever.

Hell, even the food served in IKEA cafeterias will soon be more sustainable, and, by 2013, no food waste generated at the stores will landfilled or incinerated. Perhaps in the not-so-distant future you'll be able to wash down those Swedish meatballs made from organic, grass-fed beef with a refreshing beverage made from locally sourced lingonberries after a long day of IKEA shopping.

Have leftovers? Not to fear, they'll be composted in a KOMPPÅSJT BJIND composter behind the store. Or something.

You can read the whole People & Planet Positive strategy here (PDF). Any thoughts?

Via [The Guardian], [Reuters]

MNN tease photo: Gerard Stolk (Retour d'Ecosse)/Flickr

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Blue bags for a greener future: IKEA unveils People & Planet Positive strategy
Firm in the belief that 'sustainability should not be a luxury good,' IKEA releases a sustainability strategy that, among many things, finds the retailer strivi