Future Forest: A Supply Chain Conversation with IKEA

24.10.225 min read
Visual — Dada Projects

Globally, more than 80 percent of shoppers expect companies to ensure their wood and paper products do not contribute to deforestation. How do you balance supply and demand as one of the world’s foremost furniture producers?

Around the world, forests are hard at work. They absorb a net 7.6bn metric tonnes of CO2 per year from the atmosphere. They also provide livelihoods for people, habitats for animal and plant life, and materials for building homes, furniture, and tools.

But forests are also at risk. As we explore in our Future Forest report, the resilience of forests is faltering, primarily due to human activities such as deforestation and illegal logging, but also from social unrest and climate impacts.

For people and industries that rely on wood, there is a need to protect and restore our forests using approaches that are respectful, sustainable, and strategic. One solution is the adoption of digital tools that help to bolster existing human knowledge and experience.

SPACE10 – Future Forest – Growth – Web – Dada Projects – Spruce closeup 01 – 1920x1080px

IKEA is exploring such tools as part of its commitment to improve how it manages wood supply chains, production, and demand for its furniture. This is to help IKEA ensure its wood supply is sustainable, legally sourced from responsibly-managed forests, and not part of forest-related social conflicts.

During our research for the Future Forest report, we spoke with Ulf Johansson, head of global wood supply and forestry, and Grace Huber, global wood supply and forestry communication leader, both at Inter IKEA.

Growing up in the forests of Småland, Sweden, Ulf is a keen forest manager, and has led IKEA operations in both Asia and Europe. Grace works closely with Ulf to share the stories behind the wood IKEA uses, and to educate people about the provenance of its products.

In this conversation, they share how IKEA is future-proofing its furniture and the forests from which its wood is sourced, using new technologies for traceability, and translating forest data to improve customer education.

An emotional topic

Grace Huber: Forestry is a really important topic for IKEA. We’ve been acting responsibly for a very long time, and we have an appetite for being more transparent. So, we are doubling down on being more proactive and educational on how we work with wood sourcing to contribute our perspective into the debate surrounding forests, and helping to build trust.

A helping hand from technology

Ulf Johansson: Right now, we are working on IKEA’s wood supply strategy with a mindset of: how should our virgin as well as recycled wood use look in the years ahead, when wood will play an even more crucial role in our products? Part of this will require data crunching of sustainable harvesting levels, wood availability, and new engineered wood solutions to work out the strategy. Then we need to implement the strategy. It’s here that digitalisation will be extra important for us — an enormous amount of forestry data is already available, but we all need to learn and strengthen how we work with it, and spot any gaps.

Digital transformation is opening up doors for IKEA to do more with our compliance and monitoring [of forests and supply chains] in new ways, because for decades we have been doing this on the ground. It’s quite time consuming to do that for — for example —  20 million cubic metres of round wood each year.

Exploring the digital opportunities to trace wood to verify compliance, or to identify deviations, is both interesting and inspiring.

Ulf Johansson

Head of global wood supply and forestry, Inter IKEA

Grace: Digital solutions will hugely benefit material supply chains. This is because how the industry works today [manually] to demonstrate traceability or ensure compliance can be incredibly cumbersome. Any form of technology that makes it easier for the supplier to demonstrate their full value chain will be a huge asset. Further, any form of data system that can become stronger at showing real-time metrics for available wood supply, or concerns down the pipeline, will be beneficial.

SPACE10 – Future Forest – Reveal – Web – Dada Projects – Spruce – 800x450px

Transparency leads to trust

Grace: A recent consumer shift we’ve seen presents both a challenge and an opportunity: the desire to know about origins. For example, consumers within European markets would like to know exactly which tree was felled and where it grew, or they prefer to purchase wood from their country. So, at this moment in time, IKEA is running a consumer survey with GlobeScan and other experts to map this desire from a quantitative and qualitative perspective.

Ulf: I’d like to add that when you get more tools and more opportunities like those that come with digitalisation, it doesn’t only make it easier for you to do your job, it also raises your ambitions. There will be a lot of new work to do because traceability won’t only focus on how wood goes from the forest to the furniture manufacturer, but also the customers who would like to know more.

Let’s take a popular table as an example. In order to produce the table efficiently, the different components that make up the product like the legs, particle board and surface veneer can have several different origins. At IKEA we need to become better at helping explain this to the customer.

Leading by example

Grace: There is an opportunity to demonstrate that big companies can play a beneficial role towards driving sustainability. Of course, satellite mapping, afforestation and conservation projects are valuable, but the main influence today is still the market. When we set and implement our ambitions on our sustainability requirements, the fact we are a big company is actually a benefit due to our size and reach.

Alongside governments and non-governmental organisations, sustainability must in part be led by those closest to customers’ needs.

Grace Huber

Global wood supply and forestry communication leader, Inter IKEA
SPACE10 – Future Forest – Growth – Web – Dada Projects – Fir closeup – 1920x1080px

Immediate actions

Ulf: Even if our wood is deforestation free, we must all work to stop deforestation. It is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, and the biggest contributor to the loss of biodiversity as well. Secondly, when it comes to forestry, the world must shift to responsible forest management. The more trees that grow, the more carbon they absorb from the air.

For commercial forest, when they reach maturity, you harvest them and use them to make long-lasting products, which in parallel new generations of trees are planted to absorb even more carbon. It is also important that wood-based products are designed and made so that they are also recyclable. So, at the end of a product’s life, you can recycle it into a new generation of materials. This keeps the carbon in the material for decades, if not centuries, if you do it right.

Read more about the Future Forest or listen back to Future Forest 2030, our evening of talks and discussions exploring the report and featuring Ulf Johansson, via the Forestry Stewardship Council’s Forest for the Future podcast.