Ulf on bringing together love for wood and forests and ambitious goals
IKEA is launching a global wood sourcing map, and for the first time sharing details of all the markets its wood used in products comes from. With this map, one can also assess the quantity of wood sourced from each market. We talked to Ulf Johansson, Head of Global Wood Supply & Forestry, at IKEA, about greater transparency regarding wood sourcing, responsible forestry and the wonderful ecosystem that forests are – and why pine trees will always stay close to his heart.
If there is one constant in Ulf's life, it's the forests. As a child, he would wander into the woods to play, taking in the sounds and smells of the unique ecosystem with chirping birds, humming insects and moss on tree trunks. As a young adult, he studied forestry, and as a professional, he has been in roles almost always related to the woods.
So, this wintery morning, it wasn't surprising to find Ulf at home in the midst of a forest, as he showed his surroundings – snow and tall pine trees. Over the last few months, Ulf and his team have had their hands full with something unique, significant, and very close to his heart.
For the first time, IKEA is sharing details of the forests from which it sources its wood. And it is not just the names of the market. It includes details like volumes procured and challenges of wood sourcing from these regions.
For example, while one may know that the wood IKEA uses comes from countries like Poland, Sweden, Germany, Romania, or China, but they may now be aware that IKEA procures only about nine per cent of the total wood harvested in Poland.
"Openness and honesty are part of our core values, and there's also a growing expectation from customers and our society that big companies must be transparent about the ways they operate. I believe if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear," says Ulf.
The wood IKEA uses
Wood is integral to IKEA products and has been an essential part of the range since 1943 when Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA. Many of the IKEA products in your home – the BILLY bookcase or the KLIPPAN sofa or the POÄNG chair, or the RIBBA frames - have wood in them. Almost 60 per cent of IKEA products are wood based. In FY22, IKEA used approximately 20 million cubic metres of round wood in its home furnishing business.
Hence, as a large user of wood, it's important for IKEA to source wood responsibly, be transparent about the sourcing practices and promote responsible forestry beyond our footprint. Also, where is the wood in IKEA products coming from? Was it responsibly sourced? How does that impact the environment? Those are questions that often come to the minds of IKEA customers. And rightly so. IKEA hopes the transparency around wood sourcing will help consumers make more informed decisions.
"By introducing this map, we will take another step towards transparency on how we are sourcing wood. We are a big wood consumer, and with that comes big responsibility. We want to be a force for good, and we want to be known as the major retail brand for engaging in and influencing the dialogue about responsible forest management globally," says Ulf.
Larger picture – forest agenda
Wood is essential to the IKEA identity, as are forests to Ulf's.
And over the last 20 years, Ulf has seen significant changes in the way forests and forest management have been perceived. In 2000, when he started working with IKEA as a forestry manager in Southeast Asia, he was what he calls the first generation of foresters that were tasked with developing wood sourcing requirements and implementing the good ways of doing it.
"No company at that time was asking suppliers to present reports to indicate the origin of the wood and put similar requirements on their sub-suppliers. Today, we have a solid base of suppliers who share our values and business model, putting responsible wood sourcing at the heart of their and our business," says Ulf.
Openness and honesty are part of our core values.
But Ulf believes there is still a lot that needs to be done. The good news is that IKEA has started well on its journey; being transparent about the wood we use is one part of it. The bigger journey, however, is towards 2030.
In January 2021, IKEA launched the new Forest Positive Agenda for 2030 for improved forest management and biodiversity globally. The agenda also includes ramping up the work to mitigate climate change, driving innovation to use wood in smarter ways and securing that at least one-third of the IKEA wood range is made from recycled wood.
Currently, approximately 15 per cent of wood used at IKEA comes from recycled wood. The IKEA business is becoming more resource-efficient, one step at a time and transitioning into a circular business. This includes working to make all its sourcing and materials more sustainable.
When it comes to wood usage, in FY20, IKEA reached its goal to only use wood from more sustainable sources. In FY22, 99.9 per cent of the wood used for IKEA products was either Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified or recycled.
Despite these efforts, the pressure on the world's forests and surrounding ecosystems are rising, cautions Ulf. As the world moves away from virgin fossil materials, the demand for forest products increases, adding more pressure on forest resources. It affects 1.6 billion people who rely on forests for their livelihoods worldwide.
"Responsibly managed forests can support the livelihoods of people who depend on forests, safeguard biodiversity and provide a sustainable wood supply. Forests can also mitigate climate change. Many forests used for wood production in the world today have the potential to remove more carbon from the atmosphere by more active management," says Ulf.
Growth, innovation and future plans
The IKEA vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people. With new stores and markets, IKEA hopes to reach and interact with three billion people by 2025. How will IKEA strike a balance between its growth and wood procurement?
"As we grow, it's hard to say exactly what our wood consumption will look like, especially if we talk about volume. But we believe increasing the share of recyclable wood will positively impact our total wood consumption," says Ulf, adding that new and innovative engineered wood solutions will also help IKEA reduce wood consumption.
The new engineered wood solutions that Ulf refers to include the likes of laminated veneer lumber. This veneer is a kind of plywood and can replace solid wood. IKEA has now started using it for its sofa frames. This method has helped reduce wood consumption for sofa frames by about 20 per cent while creating a better product.
Making more innovative use of wood is also a big focus at IKEA.
"We are increasing the focus on innovations in material efficiency. There are different solutions to help us to find new ways to use wood and create more from less, from every tree or every cubic meter of wood and minimize waste," says Ulf.
Also, IKEA is trying to ensure that every bit of a felled tree is used efficiently and nothing goes to waste.
While efforts are on at IKEA to ensure the wood is conscientiously sourced and appropriately used, the fact is wood is renewable and can be an excellent environmental choice if sourced from responsibly managed forests.
Therefore, IKEA also wants to enhance reforestation, restoration of degraded forests, and better forest management practices. For this, IKEA will invest from the 200 million euros set aside three years ago to speed up actions to become climate positive by 2030.
“IKEA will drive projects to remove and store carbon through reforestation and responsible forest management. We recently announced our first project in Vietnam, and there is more to come,” says Ulf.
All this for the love of wood and the woods. So, does Ulf have a favourite tree? He pauses before answering me. With a faraway look, he says it's the pine trees. He has some in his forest, and he wants them to stand tall for a long time. That's a promise, Ulf says.
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