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At IKEA, Solar Joins Swedish Meatballs on the Menu

Words by Leon Kaye

Something has to cancel out the environmental effects of those $399 sofas and $1.49 placemats, so IKEA is investing more and more in solar. The world’s most famous home furnishings retailer insists that it is taking sustainability more seriously.

With all that rooftop space on its stores and distribution centers, IKEA has the potential to become a large player in the solar industry, and recent steps indicate that the company is moving in that direction. As IKEA expands where the population grows, almost all of its property in the southern United States will be fitted with photovoltaic panels that by summer 2012 will have the capacity to generate more energy from solar.

From Virginia to Texas, nine stores and one distribution center will host over 45,000 solar panels. Collectively, those stores will generate 10.7 megawatts of power and over 1.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity. According to IKEA, this latest investment in clean energy demonstrates the company’s commitment to weaning itself away from fossil fuels--demonstrated by the fact that the company is actually purchasing and installing the equipment on its own. IKEA will own and run each of these new solar installations instead of entering power purchase agreements that are common within the solar industry. This announcement follows additional moves towards sourcing more energy from solar that IKEA has made on both the west and east coasts. IKEA’s menu of renewable energy projects keeps on expanding on both sides of the pond.

This path towards increased investment in renewables has been emerging at IKEA’s locations around the globe. Earlier this year in the United Kingdom, the company purchased a 12 megawatt wind farm in Scotland, with additional plans to add more installations in the future.

The debate over whether IKEA is truly a responsible company or not will continue to evolve. Critics point to the marginal quality of its goods and low prices as evidence that the company can never truly be sustainable. Others point out to accusations over dodgy employment practices and that the company’s minimalist appeal is a ruse to get us to buy more stuff only to have us hide it in cleverly designed contraptions.

Yet at the same time IKEA has ditched the sales of inefficient incandescent light bulbs, experimented with selling used furniture online and is phasing out flame retardants in its furniture. From ambitious tree planting initiatives to designing products that reduce the waste of water, IKEA claims it is sincere when its executives say that sustainability is at the core of its strategy. And at a time when governments are financially strapped and are backing off clean energy incentives, the giant retailers like Walmart and Target are taking on programs that could make a difference in the long run.

Getting one’s head wrapped around IKEA’s efforts to do good while maintaining a business model centered around selling cheap goods is like navigating around an IKEA store on a busy Saturday afternoon: dizzying, a long and confusing path, conflicting information and lots of nuggets to digest--like those little Swedish meatballs at those blue and yellow store cafeterias.

Is IKEA a wasteful corporate giant, a beacon of sustainability, or is the truth somewhere in between? Share your thoughts with us.

Leon Kaye often reports on CSR, is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter. He is based in California.


Photo courtesy Wiki Commons.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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