Ikea's sustainability manager spoke at NRF 2021

#NRF2021: Ikea sustainability manager on combatting overconsumption

It flies in the case of traditional retail mentality to question customers whether they really need to buy something, but according to Ikea US’s sustainability manager, Jennifer Keesson, that is becoming a core part of the furniture retailer’s messaging.

Talking as part of a panel debate at this year’s virtual National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show, an industry event that usually takes place in New York every January, Keesson said the business is focused on becoming greener in its operations and actions.

The sustainability manager remarked: “Overconsumption is a challenge Ikea has identified and we’re trying to combat it.”

So, how does that make sense for a retailer, when the key aim for a business of this nature is to drive sales and grow revenue?

“It’s become more important to incorporate sustainability into everything we do,” Keesson explained, adding that consumers – especially the younger generation – are keen to shop with businesses that are aware of their eco and social impact.

The ultimate question for any retailer, she said, is “how are you growing your business but not harming the environment or society?”.

“We’re actively trying to find solutions and services where we can enable our customers to be more sustainable at home,” Keesson continued, explaining if people are buying something they need to know how and where it was made. She said Ikea is also working harder to encourage people to think about existing items in their homes by designing multi-purpose furniture that might start as a dining table but evolve into a desk over time.

“A lot of dining tables have become desks lately, right,” she mused, reflecting on the shift to homeworking prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Keesson spoke about some of the services Ikea is looking to bring to the US, which includes a furniture buy back option, which the retailer already runs in some of its core European markets. This solution, which pays shoppers to bring back used items that can resold or resused, is one way of contributing to the second-hand retail market, which is a key part of becoming a circular organisation.

“We are really evaluating our business because we don’t want to continue to be that retailer that is just ‘come here and shop, shop, shop,” she commented.

“If you notice on Black Friday this year we turned it green. We didn’t promote shopping on Black Friday, we promoted sustainable actions at home with the products you already have.”

Indeed, greener messaging appears in Ikea’s latest marketing campaign, which tells consumers “it’s time to wave goodbye to waste and embrace living in moderation”.

“Hopefully in the future you’ll see even bigger changes from Ikea in terms of combatting overconsumption,” Keesson said.

The Ikea sustainability manager was joined on the panel by her counterpart at fashion retailer H&M US, Abigail Kammerzell, who said retailers and brands need to talk about sustainability without pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes.

“People know when you’re just trying to paint them a beautiful picture of fully sustainable and everything’s perfect,” she explained.

“You have to enable the trust with customers, and that means really showing them the progress you’re making and that you’re future looking and you have a plan to get there, and you’re all in this together.”

She added: “Even if a customer isn’t familiar with the term “circular economy”, they understand recycling, reusing, repairing, so it’s also really making sure we’re using language when we’re talking to our customers that really means something to them.”

[Image credit: Green Retail World]

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