Good for the forest

Good for people.

In 1996, Ingvar Kamprad wrote a personal letter to the group management and board of directors, asking for their support on responsible forestry: “A large part of the world’s forest is being over-exploited, and large areas have already been cleared, mainly in developing regions. Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, Canada, Siberia and elsewhere. A few efforts at replanting and conservation are being made … but nowhere near enough. … Our forests are mankind’s greatest asset.”

During FY21, IKEA suppliers sourced approximately 21 million cubic metres of round wood equivalent. “With those volumes in mind it is easy to understand that wood is an essential part of the IKEA identity. Being such a large actor in the timber industry carries enormous responsibility, but it is also a great opportunity to influence forest management around the world positively,” says Mikhail Tarasov, Global Forestry Manager at IKEA.

The journey within IKEA towards becoming ‘Forest Positive’ began nearly three decades ago. And for more than 20 years, IKEA has tried to use its size strategically to improve global responsible forest management and fight deforestation and forest depletion all over the world. As one of the biggest users of wood in the world, IKEA has a huge impact on the world’s forests and forest industry. This entails a great responsibility to work for sustainable, responsible forestry, including tracing where the wood comes from. Nowadays there are rules and procedures for this at IKEA, and in 2020 the company achieved its goal of only using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) , or recycled wood.

Today, IKEA employs approximately 45 people in a global wood supply and forestry team that has developed a strict control system for tracing where the wood comes from. Misconduct still sometimes surfaces, mostly during IKEA checks and audits. In 2020, for instance, a wood supply and forestry specialist at IKEA discovered that a supplier had falsified documents showing the wood’s origin. On the rare occasion that suppliers fall short, they are often given a second chance along with support from IKEA to get their systems in order. However, in this case all deliveries and sales of products from the supplier were stopped, and the collaboration was ended. IKEA never accepts wood that does not meet its critical requirements.

The sun shines through tall pines, the ground covered with moss.
IKEA has long said, jokingly, that one should use ‘everything but the whistling through the treetop’ to make furniture.

Vital to survival

Wood is an important material and an integral part of the IKEA identity. “As a renewable and sustainable material, wood plays a crucial role in the path to a circular society,” says Ulf Johansson, Global Wood Supply & Forestry Manager at IKEA. “To make this happen we also need to work with wood smartly, for instance using it more efficiently by creating more furniture from each cubic metre. We also need to increase the share of recycled wood in our furniture, and develop innovative new materials that help us phase out virgin fossil ones, such as wood-based textiles or plastics.”

Making the most of a material like wood may well have been part of Ingvar Kamprad’s Småland DNA. After all, he started using knotty pine 70+ years ago, the parts of pine trees that others threw away. Not because he found it particularly beautiful, but because costs came down if more of the raw material was used. “We’ve always said, jokingly, that we should use ‘everything but the whistling through the treetop’ to make furniture,” says Ulf Johansson.

Grey-haired white man with checked shirt and a down vest stands in forest environment
Ulf Johansson, IKEA Global Wood Supply & Forestry Manager.
Dark-haired man, Mikhail Tarasov, wearing steel-rimmed glasses and weather-resistant clothes walks in the woods.
Mikhail Tarasov, Global Forestry Manager at IKEA.

In January 2021, IKEA presented its new forest agenda to improve global forest management by 2030. The aim is to enhance biodiversity, mitigate climate change, and promote innovations that make it possible to use wood more smartly.

“We know that wood is a fantastic material when sourced responsibly, but we also know that the pressure on the world’s forest is growing due to unsustainable agriculture, expansion of cities, building roads and illegal logging,” says Mikhail Tarasov. “It’s more important than ever that NGOs, social groups, governments and businesses like IKEA work together for the future of forests.”

Going back in time

To understand how IKEA became Forest Positive, we need to go back to the early 1990s. IKEA had started to build up its own forest organisation. Its job would be to formulate the demands for responsible forestry, and to monitor compliance via its own specialists at locations around the world. It would be a long road, full of pitfalls, bold decisions and sometimes dangerous adventures.

Per Larsson, forest and trade expert with the World Wide Fund for Nature , WWF and today a member of the WWF and IKEA global forest steering group, remembers the situation at the end of the 1990s. “IKEA chose a fairly unique approach as a retailer then, hiring a group of foresters of their own to develop and implement forest requirements and to start getting better info on sources of wood. Many retailers at that time could not answer when asked about where the wood in their products came from, and awareness about the urgency and importance of responsible forestry was still low in general.”

Middle-aged white man stands outside in hilly area, using an axe to make hazel stakes, a young child watches him work.
WWF and IKEA Partnerships include protecting old-growth forests and promoting sustainable forestry around the world, like here in Maramures, Romania. In the photo, smallholder Ioan Mâț is making hazel stakes. Photo: © James Morgan/WWF
Middle-aged white man, Per Larsson, standing among autumn leaves in a blue jacket with WWF logo.
Per Larsson, forestry and trade expert with WWF, is also a member of the WWF and IKEA global forest steering group.

Ulf Johansson, Global Wood Supply & Forestry Manager, agrees. “It was clear that IKEA needed much more in-house knowledge, not least about where the wood in its products had come from,” he says. “As one of the world’s biggest furniture companies, IKEA was also coming under more frequent scrutiny from environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and WWF, and this drove home the fact that we really needed to step up our game.”

An important step was taken in 1993, when IKEA was one of the founders of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), along with a great many other organisations and environmental groups. The idea was to develop international criteria and control methods for responsible, sustainable forestry – i.e. forestry that was environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and took social consideration of the local population. It covered tropical forests as well as temperate and northern ones. The idea was that FSC certified wood would serve as a label and international norm for responsible forestry, and would be recognised by everyone from environmental organisations to groups for human rights, forest companies, the furniture and other wood products industry, retailers and consumers. IKEA soon set ambitious goals regarding what percentage of their wood supply should be FSC certified, but this would prove to be a longer process.

Sunbeams shine on a moss-covered stump in a forest.
Wood is a crucial part of the IKEA identity.

Honest review

Efforts to change mindsets and build awareness around the need to move towards a different way of sourcing wood started in earnest in 1990 when Russel Johnson, then Environment Manager at IKEA, submitted a detailed and honest report to the group management. It looked at previous mistakes and current threats to the environment – everything from the use of formaldehyde, PVC and chlorine-bleached paper to hazardous chemicals for flame-retardant treatments, and the depletion of tropical rainforests. A British organisation had recently started publishing blacklists of companies that used wood species from tropical rainforests. When assessing wood sourced for IKEA from tropical regions, the majority of the range was not a problem, but there were exceptions, such as a reclining chair in Philippine mahogany and a coffee table with mahogany veneer. Russel Johnson argued that removing wood sourced in natural tropical forests from the range would not only be good for the environment, but would also strengthen IKEA sustainability efforts. His arguments received a mixed reception. While many shared his views, some were concerned that increased demands on environmental certification and traceability of wood (known as ‘chain of custody’) would drive costs up too much and jeopardise the low prices.

After a few months a new environment action plan was approved, making the vulnerability of the rainforests a priority. Some within IKEA felt the plan was quite radical, while others thought it was far from adequate. To strengthen and combat the lack of knowledge in its own organisation, IKEA turned to Karl-Henrik Robèrt, an expert on sustainability issues and founder of environmental organisation The Natural Step. Internal training began at IKEA in autumn 1993, and the range was scrutinised based on the requirements of the new environmental policy. In addition, tentative collaborations were initiated with eco-organisations like Greenpeace and WWF.

Two people wearing large straw hats work with small plants in replanting beds under net roof.
In the 1990s IKEA also began a collaboration with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences . This led, among other things, to Sow-a-seed, a small but ground-breaking project to replant rainforest in Borneo, where clearing had been carried out since the early 1980s to make room for palm oil plantations.

Passion for the forest

The forest issue was managed by the environmental staff and purchasing organisation at IKEA, together with the company’s timber suppliers around the world. While IKEA began growing its in-house forestry competence, Ingvar Kamprad’s love of forests didn’t mean he gave up his passion for affordable products. Any suggestions for forest-promoting initiatives must always be accompanied by a cost analysis. Neither Ingvar nor most others at IKEA had yet realised the huge efforts that would be required to bring about genuine change.

“The forest matter at IKEA was not a straight path,” remembers Susanne Pulverer-Bergstrand, who was head of sustainability issues in 1997. “Together with the purchasing organisation, we drafted a strategy in which forest issues were a top priority. I soon realised we needed more expertise in chemicals and forestry.” So the purchasing organisation employed a forester, Gudmund Vollbrecht. He would now deal with the issues internally at IKEA and also manage other foresters on the various IKEA purchase markets. They would trace the wood’s origin for all products, and ensure it did not come from illegal sources.

See Ingvar Kamprad in his element – the forests of Småland.

Gudmund Vollbrecht soon met challenges within the purchasing organisation, for example when he warned about the company’s use of teak. “Some people said that as long as the teak came from plantations, it was fine to use it. But others didn’t agree, as teak was being smuggled extensively throughout Southeast Asia at the time. A lot of it came from protected natural forests, especially in Burma. The only way of ensuring the teak genuinely came from approved plantations was to use FSC certified teak, which was more expensive than the uncertified teak,” Gudmund remembers. He felt frustrated by the internal discussions, and when he received another job offer he accepted. But before finally leaving he had one more meeting with Ingvar Kamprad at the head office in Humlebæk.

“I went in and started my presentation. I thought now’s my chance, and I just went for it. After a while I noticed Ingvar had started to listen, and everyone else in the room looked terrified. … I was ranting away about how we didn’t know what we were doing. I basically said the entire company was incompetent. Ingvar asked a few questions along the way, and after an hour I delivered my grand finale. Ingvar said, ‘You’re damn right. What do you need?’.”

Towards new goals

Gudmund Vollbrecht stayed at IKEA. The environmental staff and purchasing organisation were now given more resources, and Susanne Pulverer-Bergstrand could employ even more people with forestry knowledge. During the second half of the 1990s, the purchasing organisation also started to place more people with forest qualifications in markets like Romania, North America, Southern and Northern Europe, China and Southeast Asia, where work was often carried out in inaccessible areas.

Man stands next to a car in a muddy dirt road, birch trees on each side.
A group of people seen from behind walking through snow-covered woods.
Early on, foresters employed by IKEA on various supplier markets were tasked with tracing the origin of the wood and ensuring it wasn’t taken from prohibited areas. Above, foresters in the field in Russia (left) and Romania (right).

In the late 1990s only a small percentage of the wood at IKEA was yet FSC certified, partly because there wasn’t enough of it around, and partly because the internal changes were going slowly. One of the challenges in increasing the proportion of FSC certified wood was that no one – not IKEA or any other brand, nor the environmental organisations – knew exactly which forests should be protected and which ones could be harvested. The idea for a solution is said to have come from the head of Greenpeace’s forest programme at the time, Christoph Thies. Lars H Læstadius, who worked at the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington DC at the time, remembers the period well. “The WRI had published a book in 1997, showing a map of the world’s last great old-growth forests,” says Lars. “Sweden’s old-growth forests weren’t even on that map. We’re talking about Siberia, Canada, the Amazon and huge forests like that. Forests so massive that nothing can affect them, that are on the very margins of human colonisation. If a volcano erupts at one end, all the biodiversity can relocate to the other end and eventually resettle.” According to Lars, Christopher Thies and Greenpeace were about to build an international forest campaign. “As I remember it, they wanted to base it on the WRI map of old-growth forests, what they called ancient forests, and thought that IKEA should come in and finance the campaign.”

The WRI went on to develop increasingly detailed maps, along with mechanisms to protect and expand the last major old-growth forests. And detailed maps of old-growth forests were exactly what companies like IKEA and the environmental movement needed. From this process, Global Forest Watch emerged as the green movement’s own scientific body. Lars H Læstadius and the WRI were soon given a job to do by IKEA.

“Once the agreement was signed, IKEA said, ‘Go to Russia and make a map of old-growth forests.’ So we did. The map turned out great and IKEA still uses it today.”

Stack of felled logs in forest, a woman and a man wearing fluorescent vests seen in the background.
Today, IKEA only uses wood that’s recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). But in the 1990s there was very little wood like this around the world, and knowledge was still inadequate about the importance of wood from sustainable sources.

Forests in a new code of conduct

The year 2000 saw the arrival of IWAY , a new code of conduct for IKEA suppliers covering forest-related issues, as well as working conditions. A new purchasing strategy was also launched under the heading ‘Pump Up the Volume’, which focused on reducing the number of suppliers, increasing purchase volumes, reducing purchase prices and streamlining the range, which would be helpful when scrutinising the supply chain. An ‘IKEA forestry standard’ was developed using a four-step model, serving as a working method for achieving the long-term goal that all wood in the IKEA range should come from verifiably well-managed forests. In 2010, the four-step model was replaced by a two-step model. Now, the only acceptable options were to reach high minimum requirements or the very strictest requirements on ‘more sustainable sources’, i.e. FSC certified or recycled wood.

Evolving partnerships

During the first decade of the 2000s, the collaboration with environmental organisations like the WWF grew. Today, IKEA and WWF collaborate on everything from reducing water and pesticide use, to improving livelihoods in cotton farming, but it was the forest that brought them together, explains WWF’s Per Larsson. In 2002, IKEA and WWF started five projects in seven countries, including halting deforestation and forest depletion in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, and increasing forest certification in Portugal. There was a clear focus: combat illegal felling, promote reliable forest certification and responsible wood trading, and continue to map, protect and preserve high conservation value forests.

Dense tropical forest at sunrise, a group of women carrying tools walking through it.
More than a quarter of the world’s forests are looked after by the people who live there: indigenous peoples, local communities and small forest farmers, but their vital role and efforts are not adequately acknowledged. The women pictured here, from Nepal, are among these ‘invisible forest managers’. The work of these and other people must be recognised if the world’s forests are to be preserved, and this is an important part of the IKEA collaboration with the WWF. Photo: © James Morgan/WWF

“It was quite ambitious to start with so many countries, but in hindsight it was a good decision that really had an impact,” says Per. “In the beginning it was mostly about IKEA supporting activities carried out by WWF, and WWF being a ‘critical friend’ of IKEA, constantly pushing for change.” Pär Stenmark, then in charge at IKEA for handling the collaboration with WWF, agrees that it was important for IKEA to have a long-term partner that would challenge its ways of working.

Both IKEA and WWF soon saw the need for a more active and integrated partnership. “WWF were no longer interested in just getting money,” says Per Larsson. “We wanted the business to change also. With IKEA, our combined expertise gave the ability to influence entire markets and inspire sustainable business practices, delivering conservation and resource stewardship that would not otherwise be possible.”

Dangerous work in the wild

In Russia, WWF and IKEA have worked together since 2002 to strengthen the sustainability of the forest sector by driving forward responsible forest management and improved forest governance. An early effort was setting up a so-called Taiga Brigade in order to fight timber theft and illegal felling of forests in the Far East region of Russia close to the Chinese border. Pär Stenmark will never forget a wild drive through the Primorsky Krai forest, where poachers hunted Siberian tiger and Korean pine was stolen in large volumes.

A confiscated poacher’s rifle and ammunition, Sinegorie, Primorsky Krai. Here, IKEA and WWF have long battled poaching and illegal logging. Photo: © Antonio Olmos/WWF-UK

“It was like the Wild West,” Pär says. “We travelled in SUVs, some of them with bullet holes in them. One time, in the middle of winter, a timber truck pulled out on the right, loaded with Korean pine. I was in the back, and the driver said, ‘There they are! Shoot over the top of them!’ So we got a flare and fired it from the window over the top of the truck, but they didn’t stop. Eventually we arrived at a huge terminal in the middle of nowhere. I saw the massive doors open, and inside were expensive luxury sports cars, in the middle of the forest. That’s when I realised the situation could get really dangerous. I jumped out, took cover behind the wheel of the vehicle with all the bullet holes, and thought, let’s see how this goes. But there was no struggle. The police caught the thieves and took them to jail.”

Improving impact

In 2005, the former IKEA forest manager in western Russia, Kjell-Owe Ahlskog, took over as Global Forestry Manager. He was quite shocked to see the tight schedule and the ambitious goals for FSC certified wood set by his predecessor, Gudmund Vollbrecht.

“Gudmund had done a massive job and come a long way. He liked to paint with a broad brush. But his numbers and goals were completely unrealistic, pulled out of the air. He knew that too, but it had stuck in the organisation. At the time, IKEA had been fluctuating between 3% and 8% FSC certified wood of total wood production for several years, and there was no major improvement in sight. I asked Gudmund what he was thinking, and he said, ‘Well, that’s what we always do, we set the bar high and see how far we get’.”

Kjell-Owe believed in setting more realistic goals in order to get the entire organisation on board. Despite all the progress, the old dilemma still remained: was it possible to source wood responsibly and maintain affordability? Nobody wanted to jeopardise the company’s low-price profile. Meanwhile, IKEA had been severely impacted by a global commodities boom, whereby wood prices went up and a shortage arose. Kjell-Owe had a good idea of the problems in the field after many long hours in trains and cars in Western Russia.

Man dressed in warm clothes and woolly hat putting on old-fashioned skis in snow-covered landscape, in front of blue tents.
Moving about in deep forests is sometimes difficult but IKEA and WWF team members always find a way. Here, Pavel Fomenko from WWF Russia puts on skis outside Sinegorie Hunting Lease, Primorsky Krai. A former hunter, Pavel knows the forest inside out and is well known nationwide in Russia for his efforts to protect the endangered Amur Tiger in the IKEA and WWF partnership. Photo: © Antonio Olmos/WWF-UK

“When we got to the suppliers, it was never the right time to be there. There were always excuses, we could never get out into the forest. If it was winter the roads were no good and we should have come in the summer, and if it was summer we should have come in the winter as there are no roads in the summer. We mostly managed to get there eventually, but we had to be very persistent.”

According to Kjell-Owe Ahlskog, everyone at IKEA understood that wood management had to be legal, and that there had to be a certain level of ‘hygiene’, even if it cost. “But the availability of FSC certified timber at the time was very low, and it became clear that if we pushed too hard, it would have an impact on costs. That obviously caused concern.”

“The business was governed by measuring the results of the range and purchasing departments in terms of gross profit, availability, price trends and quality,” explains Kjell-Owe. And as long as there was no good way of measuring the use of sustainable wood in the value chain in the same way as everything else, not a lot would happen. Kjell-Owe and his colleagues began working with analyses, measurements and data sets to increase the understanding of how important the issues were. “We really worked hard to make ourselves understood, and tried to find ways of showing people in each business area within IKEA that ‘this is your resource consumption, this is where your wood comes from’. And then we asked ‘how can we integrate wood management into the business in a good way?’”

“It was a time when the forestry issues were maturing within IKEA. And so there was more attention put to these issues, but also it was exploratory. As young foresters, we were all trying to figure it out together.”

– Sophie Beckham

Exciting times

In 2007 Sophie Beckham (today Chief Sustainability Officer at International Paper), took over as Global Forestry Manager. She had started at IKEA as North America Forestry Manager in 2003, as a recent graduate from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

“I really had no idea what I was supposed to do or what the expectation was. But I was surrounded by very good people and I quickly learned that my job included visiting a lot of very cold northern sawmills in Canada, looking for good deals on responsibly managed wood,” she says. “It was a time when the forestry issues were maturing within IKEA. And so there was more attention put to these issues, but also it was exploratory. As young foresters, we were all trying to figure it out together. IKEA was giving us lots of freedom to travel to remote places, talk to partners, to sawmill owners and all these small holders running their operations. We took all that back and synthesised it into ‘How should we act as a buyer of wood? How should we connect what we see, the realities on the ground, with what we do as an important brand that we want to protect and maintain the integrity of?’ It was just a great time to really build the knowledge in IKEA.”

Also developing rapidly at this time was the nature of collaborations between IKEA and NGOs. “Now, collaboration between NGOs and the private sector is the norm, but those were the days when it was still about big campaigning and getting a reaction. Looking back, IKEA was one of the first brands to move past the reactive nature of the relationships and try to have a dialogue with Greenpeace, for example. I think that was a critical turning point, not just for IKEA but for many companies that wanted to do the right thing. We were starting to learn that we needed to be more open and transparent, and engage our stakeholders. And there were some extremely exciting times where IKEA was willing to consider what in the 2000s felt like very big, bold goals,” says Sophie.

In 2010, Sophie Beckham handed over to a new Global Forestry Manager, Anders Hildeman. Before leaving Sophie made a final new hire that would have a major impact. Mikhail Tarasov, with a background in doctoral forestry studies in Russia, the US and the Netherlands, was appointed regional Forestry Manager in China, an important but complex market for wood.

Extensive forest with trees in yellow and red autumn colours.
Trees in autumn colours in the Lazovsky State Nature Reserve, which is now considered one of the most important reserves in Russia. Photo: © Vladimir Filonov/WWF

From research to business

Growing up in St. Petersburg, Russia, Mikhail Tarasov often tagged along on field trips when his father did forestry research. He started out on a similar path, but became increasingly interested in how business could impact sustainability and biodiversity. “Research can contribute to addressing a lot of global problems, but the private sector and business must also be on board,” he explains.

In 2010, Mikhail Tarasov hit the ground running in China. “I inherited a fantastic team, but the rest was, let’s say, not so fantastic. At a time when IKEA was aiming for 30% FSC certified wood, the actual levels in China were closer to 0%. Things were just not moving forward. The goal was clear, but we couldn’t reach it.”

In China, IKEA had a network of over 12 purchasing teams in four different locations, and over 100 suppliers, big and small. Mikhail and his team started visiting factories, sawmills, small holders and markets.

Extensive green forest area in hilly terrain.
IKEA and WWF have worked together since 2002 to protect old-growth forests and promote sustainable forestry. Here, we see a vast forest cover in China, some of it still consisting of real, natural old-growth forest, while some parts are the result of reforestation and anti-logging policies. Photo: © Staffan Widstrand/Wild Wonders of China/WWF

“Six months into the job I could hardly sleep,” Mikhail recalls. “It was painful to see the lack of responsible forest management everywhere. It was necessary to find a way to clean the supply chain methodically, and get everybody, from top management to purchasing teams, suppliers and small holders, on board. Attitudes and mindsets had to change across the forestry sector and within our business if we were to reach our goals and improve forest practices. Forestry had to become part of the business agenda.”

“The soil had been prepared by all those who came before me and my team. I was just that last drop that makes the water flow.”

– Mikhail Tarasov

Mikhail’s realisation in 2010 echoes what many IKEA foresters and Global Forestry Managers had said during their tenures. Perhaps it was being able to put things in motion in the field that made this time different. “The soil had been prepared by all those who came before me and my team,” says Mikhail. “I was just that last drop that made the water flow.”

Mikhail reported to Jesper Brodin and Peter Wisbäck, who chaired the sustainability council at IKEA. Jesper would go on to become CEO of the Ingka Group in 2017, but back then he was the Regional Purchase Manager for Southeast Asia.

“After six months I went to them and was very honest. I said, ‘We need to do things differently. And you must be the ones to tell people that and push them in the right direction. It has to come from the top.’” Jesper and Peter agreed. They gave Mikhail a mandate to integrate responsible forest management into the business and chain of custody. It was also communicated from the top that the goal in China now was to reach 100% FSC certified solid wood within two years. Together with WWF, a programme was started to increase the availability of FSC certified wood in China.

Close-up of felled tree trunks with handwritten markings.
Today, IKEA has a strict control system for tracing where the wood in its products comes from.

“We re-arranged our partnerships in order to support the suppliers across the whole value chain, and listened to their concerns. We also supported and motivated them in building long-term supply chains that were sustainable,” explains Mikhail. “And in only two years, the level of wood from more sustainable sources in China rose from just over 0% to around 50%.”

As Mikhail pushed on in China, Global Forestry Manager Anders Hildeman was working to raise the understanding of forest issues in the whole IKEA organisation. “A lot of time was spent getting the forest high on the agenda and convincing people to measure our performance also at the level of trading area and product area,” he says. The work was done closely alongside Tomas Paulsson, who was then responsible for the overall solid wood strategy at IKEA. “As my personal understanding of forest issues deepened, it spread throughout IKEA,” Tomas remembers. “And we decided we wouldn’t just sit in meetings and board rooms, but go and see the real-life situations and learn from them. I remember when I got a list of suppliers who weren’t sure where their wood came from, I asked WWF for advice. Should we shut them down directly? But WWF said no, ‘Carry on working away as you do, and it will lead to something positive. … Otherwise the same thing will just continue with another client’.”

A culture shift

On 25 April 2012, almost 25 years after the first foresters were employed at IKEA, something happened that would change awareness of how far IKEA had come in its work with forestry. A popular current affairs show on Swedish TV, Uppdrag granskning, investigated claims that IKEA was contributing to “the devastation of the earth’s unique old-growth forests in its quest for timber”. Global Forestry Manager Anders Hildeman was invited to comment and when he appeared on the television screen, many people at IKEA held their breath. The accusations were very serious and a scandal could cause huge problems for IKEA. But Anders answered calmly, and talked about how IKEA was actively striving to take increasing responsibility for sustainable forestry. Everyone suddenly realised how far IKEA had actually come since the 1990s, and also how badly things could have gone if Anders and the forestry organisation, and all those who came before them, had not persistently fought for forest issues.

“It was extremely important, maybe more important internally within IKEA than it was externally,” Anders Hildeman remembers. “Outwardly, the negative impact of the TV show was neutralised because we could get the message out and talk clearly about what we did, and how we saw the situation. But internally at IKEA, it gave us the political capital we needed to force these issues, and three years later to achieve 50% FSC certified wood. In other areas too, such as when we sometimes had to close down a supply chain because it wasn’t up to scratch, it was useful that even Ingvar Kamprad had seen me debate the issues on TV, and had been convinced that IKEA was on the right track.”

Stacks of acacia on pallets in factory, young Asian woman in red hat, checked shirt and face mask is moving one pallet.
Acacia being processed into parts for garden furniture at an IKEA supplier in Vietnam. The factory is one of several sustainable acacia small holders in Vietnam, processing 100% FSC timber. Photo: © James Morgan/WWF

In 2012, IKEA launched its People & Planet Positive, IKEA Group Sustainability Strategy for 2020, with important texts on the forestry issue. And in 2014, the forestry strategy was officially integrated into the business plans for range and purchasing. Everyone who had anything at all to do with wood at IKEA now knew that they had to be aware of the requirements.

“It proved to be effective, because once you start measuring things the results become visible, and more people start taking personal responsibility. We didn’t make it all the way, but it was the beginning of a real culture shift that would lead to where IKEA is today,” says Anders Hildeman.

Also in 2014, President and CEO for IKEA Group, Peter Agnefjäll spoke to the FSC General Assembly in Seville, Spain. More than 600 members were represented from around the world, including NGOs, businesses and indigenous peoples. “His speech was a milestone in the IKEA journey towards becoming Forest Positive,” says Mikhail Tarasov, who was in the audience that day. “I remember him saying that for IKEA ‘Making the everyday life of the many people better not only means selling more bookcases tomorrow; it’s rather improving forest management that impacts the life of the many people and communities that depend on forests that helps us realise the IKEA vision’. To me, that moment was both inspiring and iconic.”

Dark-haired man in a burgundy sweater, Mikhail Tarasov, squats by small green plants in a greenhouse.
Mikhail Tarasov, Global Forestry Manager at IKEA, led the work on the new IKEA forest agenda, launched in 2021, to improve global forest management for 2030.

A complicated journey

In 2015 Mikhail Tarasov became Global Forestry Manager of IKEA. The successful strategy and approach that he and his team introduced in China, has now been implemented and adapted to other markets around the world. As a result over 98% of IKEA wood came from More Sustainable Sources (FSC certified and recycled) by the end of 2020, which means IKEA met its ambitious goal.

“Forestry is not rocket science, it’s much more complicated.”

– Mikhail Tarasov

In 2020, Mikhail led the work on the new IKEA forest agenda, launched in 2021, to improve global forest management for 2030. He likes to say that, “Forestry is not rocket science, it’s much more complicated.”

“It’s been a long journey and it’s far from over,” says Mikhail. “Many individuals throughout these 30 years have played important roles in driving change in the organisation. But they could not have done it, myself included, unless there had been a continued commitment within IKEA throughout, a great dedication to the forest and a passion for sustainability. That was how we could reach our ambitious goals regarding more sustainable sources in 2020. Overall, people needed time to learn and understand, and systems needed to be established and followed up on. And more needs to be done – we will never be finished. One thing that’s clear is that the world needs to work together, now more than ever, to secure these precious resources for generations to come. I think we have done a great job, but we have to stay on our toes. As the pressure on the world’s forests continues to grow, we are ramping up the work to further enhance biodiversity, mitigate climate change and drive innovation to use wood in even smarter ways.”

Mikhail Tarasov, Global Forestry Manager at IKEA, talks about responsible forest management.
A film about how IKEA works for the future of the forest.