When IKEA opens the doors to its Centennial store July 27, most customers will focus on the furniture, shopping path and creative displays that have …
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When IKEA opens the doors to its Centennial store July 27, most
customers will focus on the furniture, shopping path and creative
displays that have made the international retailer famous.
What they won’t see are the 500-foot-deep holes under their feet
that feed the store’s geothermal cooling and heating system,
rooftop solar panels generating the store’s electricity, sand
filters for treating storm water, or the bales of recyclable
material into which most of the store’s trash is converted.
Though lesser known among consumers, these, too, are features
associated with the IKEA brand. Its green technology and practices
have earned the company local, national and international awards,
including recognition of environmental excellence from the
Environmental Protection Agency.
But nowhere are its green practices in greater concentration
than Centennial, the first U.S. IKEA store with a geothermal
system. The list of environmentally friendly features included in
the 415,000-square-foot store is long and runs the gamut from small
to large: Waterless urinals, hand dryers, food composting, LED site
lighting, and a building-wide system to monitor the efficiency of
heating, air conditioning and lighting.
Absent from the list are incandescent light bulbs and plastic
bags. IKEA phased out sales of incandescent bulbs late last year,
and stopped offering customers plastic bags in 2008.
Being green is in the company’s roots, says IKEA spokesman
Joseph Roth. Founder Ingvar Kamprad was raised on a farm in
southern Sweden, “a very industrious and poor region,” Roth
“Everything there is about maximizing your resources, being as
frugal as possible,” he said. “It’s just a natural extension to
apply that to all aspects of your business, even with regard to
natural resources. As long as there’s been IKEA, we’ve been focused
Green technology experts say the company’s use of such practices
has multiple benefits.
“They are being very responsible,” said Terry Proffer, a
geologist with Denver-based Major Geothermal, the company assigned
to inspect IKEA’s geothermal system. “It’s not just going to lower
their operating costs and maintenance, but for those people who
think there’s a greenhouse gas emissions problem, it reduces
When IKEA opened its first store in 1958, the phrase “greenhouse
gas emissions” and words like “sustainability” — the term now
commonly used to describe environmentally and socially responsible
practices — were decades away from becoming part of the
Now, earth-friendly technology is evolving so rapidly that even
IKEA can’t keep pace. While Centennial, as its newest store,
features the latest and greatest, even that will quickly be
surpassed. The challenge, Roth said, is that large stores like
IKEA’s require years of planning. The Colorado store was created on
paper in 2008. But sustainable building technology hasn’t stopped
evolving in the three years since.
“We strive to incorporate as many new technologies as possible,”
he said. “As more advanced technology comes on the scene, sometimes
we’re able to incorporate it and sometimes we say, ‘Next
Other times, the company works with what it already has. For
example, while IKEA is retrofitting many of its stores with solar
power, in California that means first rebuilding the roofs of two
10-year-old stores so they can support the panels.
Being green is pricey, to be sure. Just how pricey IKEA won’t
say. As a privately held company, it holds financial information
close to its chest. But because of the vast size of both the
company and its stores, the eco-investments are worthwhile, Roth
“IKEA is a company that isn’t in for the short payback,” he
said. “We can afford to make an investment that might cost a lot up
front, but long-term makes a more efficient operation. Not all
companies are in that position.”
Some of the sustainable elements that are now standard practice
in IKEA stores first had to gain approval from consumers. In 2007,
it started charging 5 cents for each plastic bag; the bags
typically were used for its IKEA-brand foods and accessories.
“It truly was an attempt to shift customer behavior,” Roth
In 2008, it stopped offering plastic bags altogether, instead
offering large, multi-use, IKEA-blue bags for 59 cents each.
While IKEA led the retail movement to charge for or eliminate
plastic bags, Roth says IKEA’s focus is not on its impact on other
retailers. Still, he acknowledges that IKEA’s presence – massive
blue building aside — doesn’t go unnoticed.
“So much about our shopping experience is so unique,” he said.
“So if someone is adapting because IKEA’s in the market, it’s not
going to be just in regard to the bags. It’s going to be with
regard to other elements as well.”
Proffer hopes IKEA’s evident belief in geothermal sparks a
similar movement among area builders and homeowners. Geothermal
hasn’t yet caught on in Colorado, he said. IKEA, he believes, might
help change that.
“We have high hopes this will generate a lot of word of mouth,”
Proffer said. “We’re hoping that more of the commercial market will
look at it, and people that are just in there shopping will look at
that and get curious about this technology.”
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