Today, January 14th, at THNK Forum session, we get to meet Steve Howard. Steve is the Chief Sustainability Officer at IKEA since January 2011. He believes that Sustainability will be one of the mega trends that will shape society and the business landscape in the next 10 years. He has worked broadly with ngo’s and businesses for climate change in the past such as World Wildlife Fund and UK Forest Stewardship.
We kick off with Karim interviewing Steve on his early career and how he got into working for the environment in the first place.
Steve founded The Climate Group in 2004 starting out as a two person start up in a small room, their Theory of Change was to reach 7 billion people through reaching the top world leaders. He tells that sometimes it took three years of networking to finally get a meeting. A lot of relentless work involved! Steve feels that the Climate Group managed to get the conversation about the climate between business and governments to become mainstream. Quite an achievement. Although of course the mission against climate change has not been achieved yet.
About his current position at IKEA, Steve says: ‘The purpose of leadership is to remind people of purpose’ and Steve is quite obsessive he says himself about getting the maximum potential of sustainable actions within the company.
THNK’rs question round kicks off:
Sofana asks, what do you see as the role of young people and children, in the fight against climate change?
Steve: To remind us of our responsibility!
Rachel asks about organisations and people in for example the UN she has worked with who have sometimes dissappointed her in their lack of action orientation. Rachel wants to know how Steve remains positive in the face of that.
Steve: My motto is Mission first, Organisations second, People third! When people fall into the gap of allowing either an organisation’s or a person’s needs to take priority the mission suffers. Usually you can recognise through a persons approach where their priorities lie.
Ellen J. wants to know do you stay so optimistic in the face of such huge challenges?
Steve Perhaps I am a Possibilist more than a optimist. At least that is what my son told me. Steve also hires people around him that are solution based. He feels really encouraged by the huge leaps humanity has made in bringing huge numbers of people out of dire poverty and truely believes that if we pull together, collective action, we can do this, we can establish lifestyles that are sustainable on the planet and imporving quality of life.
Jezus wants to know about the lifecycle of products, is IKEA designing furniture that will last?
Steve: Yes and no. Some products should be cheaper for the first time buyer. They don’t want them to last forever. We do want the products to be recyclable at the end of use. Other products should last very long, such as mattresses, or more heirloom potential objects.
Sharon tells that in her experience from discussions between business and social innovation, she sees 3 layers of conversation, one happening at the R&D level, one happening at the marketing level and one happening at the CSR level, she suspects that until directors give the intention to the product designers to design for sustainability. She would like to know Steve’s thoughts on this and how that works at IKEA, what is the balance of power there.
Steve has a question for us: How can IKEA effectively engage people through open-innovation, being such a big operation?
Karim is going to collect our ideas on this and collate them for Steve.
Jason: If you were to design a school around sustainability, what are the 5 things you would include in the curriculum?
Steve: Thanks for the easy last question 😉 Thinking intuitively, I’d include something about leadership, we need leaders, I’d include something in about history and cycles of change, how have things changed in the past. I’d include contents about how the world and nature works, so that you understand it better. Then perhaps, some more specialised modules on ngo leadership and innovation.