Steve Howard leads the sustainability effort at Ikea, helping the low-price-furniture giant to bring sustainable products to millions of people.
More than 690 million people visited an Ikea store in 2012; the company sold €27 billion worth of low-priced sofas, lamps, bookshelves and other goods (including €1.3 billion just in food) from more than 1,000 suppliers. Steve Howard, the chief sustainability officer, is charged with making that supply chain, and the company's 298 stores and almost 3,000 products, live more lightly upon the earth.
Coming to Ikea from the nonprofit consultancy Climate Group, Howard has embraced the challenge of working with a single big company, and the improvements he's made so far include helping farmers grow more-sustainable cotton around the world, remaking classic products to use fewer parts, and investing €1.5 billion through 2015 in renewable energy sources, notably wind and solar. (Like the rollout in the UK of Ikea solar panel systems for the home.) And if you've been to an Ikea lately, you probably already know this, through signs and explainers posted all over the store. Telling the story of sustainability is key, Howard believes, as companies like his become agents of transformative change. As he says: "I don't think we've fully realized the extent to which sustainability is going to shape society and the business landscape over the next couple of decades."