Report cards are out for retailers’ climate goals, specifically when it comes to tackling the pollution from their shipping. Compared to other retail giants, Ikea managed to get surprisingly high scores.
With a B+ grade overall, Ikea stands out among the 17 other rated companies, which all received D or F grades. Apparently, the Swedish company has been more ambitious in its push for cleaner ships and ports, according to the coalition of environmental groups called Ship It Zero that rated the companies.
Today, the ships that haul all the furniture, gadgets, and other consumer goods we buy are major sources of pollution. Maritime shipping is responsible for about as much of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as aviation. It also pumps out air pollutants that waft ashore to coastal communities, which was linked to an estimated 60,000 premature deaths in a year.
Ships that haul all the furniture, gadgets, and other consumer goods we buy are major sources of pollution
“This has a really terrible public health impact on poor communities,” says Eric Leveridge, corporate climate campaign manager at Pacific Environment, one of the groups in the Ship It Zero coalition. “That’s something that we really feel that everyone both on the retail side and the shipping carrier side needs to start addressing immediately.”
Most big container ships run on heavy fuel oil, and one of the biggest problems is when they keep their engines running while idling offshore. That adds more pollution on top of train and truck emissions from vehicles buzzing around ports. The Ship It Zero campaign is pushing companies to switch to ships and other vehicles that run on cleaner energy. They also say companies can have a big impact by pushing ports to electrify, allowing ships to plug into the grid instead of running their engines at berth.
Ikea got high marks for its efforts to be more transparent about its pollution and for working with ports on ways to cut down those emissions. Ikea’s greenhouse gas emissions from upstream transportation have fallen despite the company’s growth, thanks in part to moving goods on vessels that run on biofuels. Biofuels can be made with waste materials like used cooking oil and can produce fewer emissions, but Ship It Zero still considers it a short-term alternative to fossil fuels until even cleaner fuels are widely available.
The Ship It Zero coalition surveyed 18 different retailers including Amazon, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, and Walmart. It rated companies based on their emissions disclosures and initiatives to slash shipping pollution. They found that few retailers were even tracking emissions from maritime shipping.
Ikea and Lowe’s were the only two companies that responded to questions from the coalition, which had to rely heavily on data each brand had previously shared publicly. The coalition published another report a few years ago that found that Ikea was among the 15 companies responsible for the most maritime import pollution in 2019. Together, the brands created almost as much climate pollution as 1.5 million American homes do in a year. In 2021, Ikea joined a group of companies including Amazon that committed to only contracting ships that run on zero-carbon fuels by 2040.
Only The Home Depot responded to a press inquiry from The Verge before publication, saying in an email that it “partners closely with ocean freight carriers who care about environmental stewardship as much as we do, and we make sure to understand their current and future goals to decarbonize maritime transport.”
The report cards published last week show how much more work there is for companies to do if they’re serious about cleaning up their shipping pollution. And Ikea is no exception since Leveridge says the company ought to engage with its suppliers more to cut down their emissions.
“I want them to be proactive in how they’re speaking about these things publicly,” Leveridge says. “It’s not just about investing in new fuels and new technologies.”