Melih Cevdet Teksen/shutterstock

Melih Cevdet Teksen/shutterstock

At a recent Climate Week event in New York, Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, spoke about the the universal need to create a cleaner, safer planet, saying, “pollution does not have a passport.”  

The numbers back him up. The World Health Organization attributes 4.2 million global deaths each year to outdoor air pollution. Carbon emissions impact quality of life issues across borders, from safe drinking water to food and shelter security. The U.N. says there were 821 million undernourished people in the world last year, thanks in part to food shortages caused by extreme weather. 

Global pollution and climate change problems have set many philanthropies to work. But how did the philanthropic arm of a Swedish home furnishings company come to join the fight?

A Funding Evolution

Heggenes leads a foundation that was created by IKEA’s famously frugal founder, Ingvar Kamprad, in 1982 to support innovative architecture and interior design—a natural fit for a company that’s widely known for its spare sense of style. After a few forays into projects that helped children, Kamprad decided to grow the foundation’s vision. 

Ten years later, the IKEA Foundation is celebrating a decade of helping families enjoy better everyday lives, and has evolved into a global force that last year funded programs to the tune of  €175 million, working in 45 countries.

Today, after time spent “learning, growing and exploring,” the foundation is embracing a new strategic direction that addresses the two issues it feels are the biggest threats to children’s futures: poverty and climate change. 

Its current work is grounded in the idea that well-paying jobs are the best path out of poverty—and that those jobs should be created in concert with the world’s adaptation to climate change. Liz McKeon, head of Portfolio Climate Action, says its new mission is “based on our belief that families need both financial stability and a healthy environment if they and their children are to thrive.” It intends to support programs that “will not only reduce carbon emissions, but that will also make an immediate and tangible difference in people’s daily lives.”

A Growing Commitment

The IKEA Foundation’s initial strategy was to put businesses at the vanguard of fighting to protect the planet. It began funding climate-related programs in 2014 with the launch of “We Mean Business,” a coalition of organizations that advise companies on sustainable practices and drive policies to accelerate the zero-carbon transition. By the following year, it had committed to funding €400 million in climate-related programs through 2020. 

Last year, it upped the ante, pledging an additional €300 million to extend the program through 2023. McKeon says its climate action portfolio strategy broadened, as well, with investments in real economic leadership, finance sector reform, and civic engagement to persuade high-emitting countries to deliver on commitments to limit global warming.

Partner Development

The IKEA Foundation doesn’t accept unsolicited funding applications. Instead, it strategically creates partnerships with a limited number of organizations that “apply innovative approaches to achieve large-scale results.” 

Two examples of that are its partnerships with the European Climate Foundation and the Clean Air Fund. One delivers on an old promise, while the other delivers on a new one.

The IKEA Foundation’s support for the European Climate Foundation (ECF) aligns with its Climate Action portfolio work, a multi-level strategy to advance the goals of the Paris Agreement and encourage sustainable systemic change. Its support stands behind ECF’s efforts to move the European Union toward meeting Paris Agreement targets. McKeon says IKEA chose ECF because of its high-caliber team, strategic focus, independence, and analytical, fact-based approach, all assets for addressing “the interconnected levers of regulation, private sector activity and civic interests that are required at this moment.” 

Last month at the United Nations Climate Change Summit, the IKEA Foundation helped launch a new initiative, the Clean Air Fund—the first pooled fund to approach clean air solutions from both a health and climate perspective. McKeon says the foundation’s partnership decision was based on “evidence from smaller campaigns we funded that highlighted the importance of air pollution to many people. Poor air quality is something that has tangible effects on people’s everyday lives, regardless of wealth or social status, and has the same underlying causes as climate change.”

Focusing on Families

As previously reported in Inside Philanthropy, the IKEA foundation joins other funders whose interest in climate change focuses on bolstering children and families. Joining its support for the Clean Air Fund were the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), which says pollution “hurts children the most,” and the Bernard van Leer Foundation, which recognizes that vulnerable children have “their whole lives to suffer the consequences” of a polluted planet.

The IKEA Foundation welcomes the company. McKeon says, “As a single funder, we are under no illusion that we can accomplish the transformation we need to survive as a planet on our own. Together with this ecosystem of partners, we call on governments, the private sector, businesses, philanthropic organizations and citizens to join us in unprecedented collaboration to help reverse damage to our environment and protect the planet for all children.” 

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