“It is not fair – that is why it has to change”

“It” is the polluted air in New Delhi – a city known for many good things, but also for being one of the most air polluted cities in the world. Thanks to Helene Davidsson and her colleagues this might soon change.

“At IKEA, we don’t just stand still and watch things happens. When we see something that is not good, we try to change it!” Helene Davidsson’s blue eyes are burning with ambition when she talks about the air and the situation in New Delhi. “The day when my daughter turned nine, the air in the city was so bad that 5,000 schools had to close, because nobody could go out. It was like living in a ghost town. I just knew that this had to change. And I needed to be part of that change”.

It might sound overambitious to take on the task to change one of the most air polluted cities in the world. Well, Helene was thinking differently. When she was driving in the New Delhi countryside, on her way to visit an IKEA supplier, she watched how the farmers were burning rice straw, which is a harvesting residue. It made the sky turn grey and foggy.

She stopped the car, and looked deep into the fire. It was like something was there… An opportunity: an IKEA product! And it was made from the millions of tons of rice straw that is traditionally burnt every year.

Rice straw being burned in India after harvest
Rice straw being burned in India after harvest
Imagine if you can buy locally made products from rice straw, and at the same time help to create a better everyday life for the many people by contributing to better air in your own city!

“Imagine”, says Helene with that intense look again. “Imagine if we can turn this rice straw into an opportunity; for IKEA, for the farmers and ultimately for all people living in megacities with polluted air.  Imagine if you can buy locally made products from rice straw, and at the same time help to create a better everyday life for the many people by contributing to better air in your own city!”

“We should be able to use this material and turn it into products like pots, boxes – and maybe even boards? And boards are used in many of the big sellers from IKEA, like BILLY, MALM, kitchen fronts, tables and wardrobes. What a change that would be!”

Most people would stop with this wonderful idea. But not Helene.
She has worked hard, really hard to create something out of this initial thought. And now IKEA is ready to try Helene’s ideas in a project called Better Air Now! First in India, but hopefully soon in megacities around the world.

Helene looking out over a smoggy New Delhi
Helene looking out over a smoggy New Delhi

Facts about the Better Air Now initiative

According to WHO around 90% of people worldwide breathe polluted air,[1]. India is one of the most polluted countries in the world where 95% of all Indians breath polluted air every day. That is 1.2 billion people!

IKEA wants to turn rice straw – a rice harvesting residue that is traditionally burned and contributes heavily to air pollution – into a new renewable material source to be used for making IKEA products. The team is also looking into how rice straw can be turned into other useful materials. The first product prototypes based on rice straw will be ready by the end of 2018 and the ambition is to start selling the products in IKEA India during 2019-2020, and gradually include more markets

Helene Davidsson is Sustainability Compliance Manager in IKEA Services India. If you have ideas on how to develop this initiative, you can reach her by email helene.davidsson@IKEA.com

[1] www.who.int/airpollution/data/cities/en/