Mikhail on trees, timber and ambitious goals

We talked to Mikhail Tarasov, Global Forestry Manager at IKEA, about commitments, responsible forestry and the marvelous machines we call trees — and why a certain IKEA product at home reminds him of never giving up.

Take a look around you. The wood used for your IKEA furniture likely comes from Poland, Russia, Sweden, Lithuania, Germany, Romania or China — the top countries from which IKEA sources wood. In the last 12 months, IKEA used approximately 21 million cubic metres of round wood. This is almost one per cent of the world’s industrial round wood supply. Looking at all IKEA sales, 60 per cent are connected to wood-based products.

“With those volumes in mind it is easy to understand that wood is an essential part of the IKEA identity. Being such a large actor in the timber industry carries enormous responsibility, but it is also a great opportunity to influence forest management around the world positively”, says Mikhail Tarasov, Global Forestry Manager at IKEA.

Mikhail joined IKEA in 2010, and today he leads the effort towards a “Forest Positive” IKEA. This involves not just responsible sourcing wood for IKEA products but also promoting responsible forestry, helping to make this the industry norm. If wood is essential to the IKEA identity, forests are essential to Mikhail’s.

Growing up in Saint Petersburg, Russia, it was never far to a forest, and with a father working with forestry research which brought him on field trips young Mikhail got to know forests early. This woke an interest in forest biology and the climate implication of forest ecosystems — an interest that led to doctoral studies in forestry in Russia, US and in the Netherlands.

“Even though research is very inspiring, I started to wonder about the practical implications and how we can approach the whole ecosystem from a practical business point of view. Research can contribute to addressing a lot of global problems, but the business needs to be on board,” says Mikhail.

Responsible forest management involves everyone. So what is a responsibly managed forest then? This is a forest where logged trees are replanted, endangered species are protected, wildlife is maintained, and the people working in the forests or living nearby are supported, and many other things. IKEA has a big part to play in this. IKEA has partnered with WWF to promote responsible forest management, good governance, and transparency in the global timber trade. IKEA is also one of the founding members of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that promotes solutions for responsible forestry and verifies that it is secured.

IKEA’s target is that by the end of 2020, all wood used in IKEA products will come from more sustainable sources, which is defined as FSC certified or recycled wood. In countries where forests are at risk or there is a history of bad forestry practices, the target of 100% wood from more sustainable sources was met in 2017 — a major milestone, and today 90% of all the wood used in IKEA products come from sources defined as more sustainable,

“When we set this ambitious goal that all wood will come from more sustainable sources in 2020, I think many questioned if we were going to succeed. However, in 2017, we passed an important milestone, that all wood should come from more sustainable sources where forests are at risk, and that was a real breakthrough. I believe we played a big role in pushing the standards to a new level, and we need to continue,” says Mikhail.

There are many different suppliers at different levels of the supply chain that need to be on board, which makes achieving more sustainable sources a collaborative effort.

“We didn’t just place demands on the suppliers, but also offered to support them and their partners with technical assistance upstream in the supply chain,” says Mikhail.

What kind of technical assistance could that be? Can you give us an example?

“Whether it is the small private forest in Vietnam or a big industrial forest in Russia, you need to know the different values of the forests. You have to be aware of environmental values and social values. Is there a part of the forest that is old, intact and unique? Together with WWF, we have identified those forests that need to be set aside and protected. Many of them are already protected by the government or are listed by UNESCO, but we need that information to reach every part of the supply chain,” says Mikhail.

Ultimately, wood is a renewable and an excellent environmental choice, provided that it comes from responsibly managed forests. As Mikhail puts it:

“Trees are marvellous machines that mitigate climate change itself. For the last twenty years, humans have tried to come up with a clever way to prevent climate change, but one solution has always been here, the trees.”

Finally, do you have a favourite IKEA product?

“I would have to say two. JOKKMOKK, the iconic table with four chairs, reminds me of a certification of its forest of origin I was involved in. Nobody believed that we would be able to source this wood from central Siberia responsibly, but together with FSC, we proved the opposite! Today my favourite product is the MÖCKELBY dining table. I have spent a lot of time with our teams and WWF in Romania where the oak wood comes from. It is beautifully made, and what I also really like is that the particleboard inside and thick veneer on top helps us use less wood,” says Mikhail.