IKEA is one of the largest corporations in the world, and even the smallest change in its supply chain could have a gigantic impact on its business. After all, this is a company that uses 1 per cent of the world's wood supply. In fact, IKEA operates a whole venture fund devoted to emerging tech, from ice cream to batteries.
GreenTech AB is IKEA's smaller, Sweden-based venture arm — a fund of almost $US80 million that will be invested in smaller companies that could eventually have an impact on IKEA's actual business. The fund has been in operation since 2008, but it only made its first investment in 2010. This week, it announced another, which makes now a good time to take a look at the technology that IKEA sees as the future of its business.
One major point of interest for IKEA, of course, is lighting. The company has pledged to ditch traditional incandescent lighting for LEDs by September of next year, which explains its newly announced investment in Scottish company Design LED Products. The 10-year-old company makes super-thin, super-light printed light "tiles" out of LEDs. In the future, IKEA lights might not have individual LED bulbs at all — they might be made out of thing, flexible panels like these.
This is actually GreenTech's second LED tech company: In 2012, it invested in El Seed, a startup that makes LEDs that produce light far closer to sunlight and incandescent light (and contain no mercury).
IKEA serves up billions of meatballs, lox plates and pastries every year — which, of course, means that it sucks up huge amounts of animal-based food products. Two years ago, it became a shareholder in the Swedish company BoFood, which makes diary- and meat-free foods. It would seem that the company wants to cut back on the amount of animal-based food it consumers at its hundreds of stores — and BoFood could help them do it.
Another recent investment: A dying system that needs no water. Developed by the Dutch company DyeCoo Textile Systems, the process is the very first waterless system that's available commercially. In fact, Nike has invested in this "manufacturing revolution" too, and is already using the tech in its factories. It uses recycled carbon dioxide to imbue fabric with dye, rather than the standard water-based process, which ends up wasting millions of tons of water and plenty of energy.
All of GreenTech's investments deal with energy efficiency in some way, but actually quantifying and tracking all of that energy data is a massive task on its own. That's why it invests in Exibea, a Swedish company that will track your energy consumption and tell you how to cut back.
As IKEA tries to minimise its massive energy footprint — it's buying up huge wind farms here in the US, for example — a tool like this will be invaluable. IKEA also invested in Mountain Cleantech AG, a clean tech investment group that serves Northern Europe.
Since lighting is a huge part of IKEA's business, IKEA sells huge amounts of batteries for its wireless lamps on site too, which explains its very first investment through GreenTech: Alelion Batteries, the maker of lithium iron phosphate batteries — which are lighter, smaller, more durable, and less wasteful. In time, these may be the batteries you grab from the bins in the checkout line.