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IKEA – the work placement continues…

After a two-week break for the summer, I started back at IKEA last week. As you may remember from an earlier post, I am spending eight weeks with the Belfast branch of the Swedish furniture giant. My goal while I am here is to help them reduce their organisational carbon footprint, with a particular focus on customer transportation.

A few things have become abundantly clear to me with regard to my project. The first is that it’s not going to be easy, for a number of reasons. For starters, IKEA Belfast is situated in a business park just off a busy dual carriageway (a highway, for our North American readers!) and as such is very accessible by car. The problem is, however, that there are very few options for those who don’t drive or have someone who can drive them. Belfast, and indeed Northern Ireland as a whole, lacks a tram, metro, or subway system. On top of that, all of our trains and buses are owned and operated by a single company, resulting in a monopolised service that runs the risk of becoming stagnant due to the lack of competition. To make matters worse, even if you do take the train or bus to the nearest stop, there is no safe access to the store itself by bike or foot. Part of your journey would involve walking along a busy slip-road (off-ramp) that lacks a pavement (sidewalk) or cycle lane. The road department has been contacted about this, but have responded to say that it would cost too much to improve the road. More than a human life? It is only a matter of time before someone gets hurt, especially with the harsher winter conditions approaching.

I have come up with some great ideas for how some of these problems could potentially be solved, but inevitably they have all been thought of before (and dismissed), or are simply too expensive to be deemed appropriate. Either way, it can become extremely frustrating to be in what can seem like a lose-lose situation. When this happens, it’s important for me to remember that IKEA is a business and therefore exists to make money. Sustainability and the environment are not their top priorities. Making money is. I’m not in a position right now to comment on whether or not I agree with this, but suffice to say that I do believe more could be done.

Despite all of this, there is a blue sky on the horizon. One idea in particular seems to have legs and although I can’t say too much about it at the moment (it involves an existing huge car park and a shuttle bus), it looks like it could go the full distance. More importantly, it has the support of the management, which in business is more than half the battle. It may not have proved itself within the next four weeks, but hopefully I can help pave the way for its introduction and remove any lingering doubt that it is in fact a good way forward. All we can do is try!

Freddie Harris is currently studying for a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His undergrad is in Tropical Environmental Science. Freddie writes about his current experiences as a sustainability student, giving others an insight into what is perhaps one of the most interdisciplinary subjects out there. He hopes to remain optimistic about the future!

Posted on: August 30, 2011, 9:00 am Category: The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , , ,

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