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Sustainable Innovation

Podcast: Balancing profit, people and planet

Simon Henzell-Thomas
Published: April 9, 2024
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An In Good Company podcast with Simon Henzell-Thomas, Global Director for Climate and Nature at Ingka Group (IKEA). 

Can big business make the world a better place?

Do change, growth and sustainability go hand in hand? How can you grow your business and have a positive impact? What can you do to change your approach and grow engagement?

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As the biggest franchisee in the IKEA system (running nine out of ten IKEA stores globally), retail is at the core of Ingka Group’s work. In this podcast, Ingka Group's Global Director for Climate and Nature, Simon Henzell-Thomas, talks transformation, influence, and the huge potential big business has to effect change.

What changes have you noticed in sustainability in business?

I think integrating sustainability into how we operate as a business is the biggest change. Climate science is important but what does that mean if I’m a purchasing manager, or a real estate manager, or a marketing person? You need to translate that into action. One example from Ingka is that we said to country mangers, ‘if you’re leading IKEA in Germany, or France, or Switzerland, you’re also a CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) now.’ We gave them the responsibly of leading the business and leading sustainability, and I think that’s quite a fundamental thing because then we don’t have this ‘either or’ of making money over here and then doing a bit of sustainability over there. The two should go hand in hand. 

How do you bring people with you on sustainability journeys? 

I would not pretend to be an expert on this, I’m still learning. The first thing I think about leadership is that it’s a continuous journey. So, even when you’ve got all of the answers, you suddenly realise you know nothing. That humility is really important. The only constant is making mistakes in leadership and learning from that. 

In sustainability, I feel we’ve moved away from evangelism, which is about convincing people of the ‘why’. We don’t need to convince people of the ‘why’ anymore. Now it’s much more about the ‘how’. There’s a phrase in Sweden that you’ve got two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you speak. And I think that’s very true. The first question you should ask is, what’s your greatest fear? Because that unlocks everything. Change management is always complicated. What is it that’s holding us back? What are the dilemmas? What are the fears? I think that humble question tends to unlock a lot of action in business and brings people with you. 

Listen to the podcast on Spotify

Watch our interview here:

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