Sustainability: should kitchens be more like cars?

David Connor (pictured), the man behind the 2030hub co-working ecosystem, points out that with Ikea already producing kitchens from recycled materials, the KBB industry could lose out on the biggest opportunity this century if it ignores the circular economy

Remember when the only electric vehicles were milk floats? Many countries have already pledged to end sales of cars and vans propelled by internal combustion engines by 2040.

Recently, Tesla launched the four-seat, Roadster, an electric car with a 620-mile range that speeds past 250mph and hits 60 mph in 1.9 seconds. Not too shabby for a milk float.

Tesla Motors was the most valuable car maker in the US in mid-2017, above Ford and General Motors. A $50+ billion (£37.4bn) valuation is impressive for a manufacturing company that didn’t exist until 2003.

If you think the kitchen industry is in anyway immune to this type of disruption, you are gravely mistaken. Maybe not today, or even tomorrow, but over the coming years businesses will be forced to evolve, whether they like it or not.

The perfect storm of technological innovation accelerated by environ-mental demands will, without any doubt, radically alter all business models and customer expectations faster than many businesses are currently prepared to adapt to – just think of Kodak.

Not too long ago, sustainability was a nice-to-have badge with accreditations like ISO 14001 helping get past a procurement hurdle or two. Now true sustainability, not the superficial bolt-on offsetting often cheaply monikered as CSR (corporate social responsibility), is not only becoming increasingly mandatory, it is the strongest route to innovation and a prerequisite to any thriving future bank balance.

A new way of thinking 

Kitchens may not be an obvious top priority in the grand sustainability scheme. I can guarantee, however, that innovators – especially digitally-savvy millennial entrepreneurs with far wider radars than the ageing grey men that dominate most boardrooms – are hatching a new ‘Uber for Kitchens’ even as I type.

Tesla Motors - a pioneer in sustainable technologies
Tesla Motors – a pioneer in sustainable technologies

Utility companies, car manufacturers, banks, taxis, insurance companies, hotels and many others are all under siege by a new era of sustainable technology emboldened by mavericks such as Tesla, Ecotricity, Uber, Lemonade Inc, AirBnB and others incubating on laptops worldwide.

Other examples, from the world of kitchens, include Ikea launching Kungsbacka, their first recycled kitchen. This is made from recycled plastic drinks bottles (PET) in the form of a plastic foil over recovered wood for cabinet and drawer fronts, also covered by their 25-year guarantee.

Says Ikea product developer Anna Granath: “We need to become better at using the planet’s resources in a smart way. We need to start seeing PET bottles and other disposed material as useful resources rather than just waste.”

At Ikea’s scale, such innovation not only creates substantial environmental impact, but also demonstrates product development trends, consumer awareness and an appetite for increasingly sustainable products at mainstream market prices.

Another example is the Used Kitchen Exchange (UKE). Originally an idea conceived through a search for a great kitchen, but at a lower price, it has rapidly evolved into a disruptive, sustainability-driven business model still gaining momentum well into its fourth year. By creating a platform for reselling used kitchens, both from consumers and business suppliers, UKE diverts significant amounts of waste from landfill.

Says Helen Lord, founder and CEO of UKE: “The historic linear approach to business needs to die, and quick. Profit without a genuine understanding and attribution of the real costs to the environment or society has created a version of business that will ultimately fail. The problem is that the damage is either too abstract, or hidden down tiers and tiers of supply chains, away from the point of sale, with organisations only focusing on their bottom-line return.

“The answer to long-term profitability is circular-economy thinking, to design in sustainability from the cradle to the grave. The real challenge is re-education. This is the biggest message for the successful business of tomorrow.”

By building their growing business model around sustainability, UKE is already seen as a leader, gaining access to new markets. It is opening up new revenue streams for its partners, as well as attracting receptive new collaborators, such as the 2030hub, and forward-thinking kitchen retailers and manufacturers. It is also looking to become a BCorp – an emerging global movement for business as a force for social good.

UKE’s alignment and partnership potential within the industry also creates a truly international brand, tied directly to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (also called the Global Goals).

Number 12 out of the 17 Global Goals focuses specifically on ‘responsible consumption and production’, elevating early adopters like UKE into a thought leadership brand position and having greater influence on procurement policy direction.

This global framework, which the UK government actively championed and signed up to in 2015, will run until 2030 and sets out incredibly ambitious targets across the entire economic, social and environmental spectrum with an emphasis on the interconnectedness between all 17 Global Goals.

The current political leadership has been slow on implementation, delayed like many things by Brexit. My belief is that this could potentially lead to one of the biggest business opportunities this century being missed due to lack of foresight from the many.


The UK government Industrial Strategy green paper published in November said: “The move to cleaner economic growth – through low-carbon technologies and the efficient use of resources – is one of the greatest industrial opportunities of our time. By one estimate, the UK’s clean economy could grow at four times the rate of GDP. Whole new industries will be created and existing industries transformed as we move towards a low-carbon, more resource-efficient economy.”

With the circular economy moving up agendas everywhere, the time is looming when business will no longer be just business anymore.

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