Lorna joined IKEA in 2008 as the Local Marketing Manager for New York City, after previously working as a reporter for the Bronx Times Reporter/ NY Post/Newscorp and a Press Secretary Assistant for the Office of Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion.
With IKEA, Lorna works with key local community partners, politicians, local businesses and influencers to ensure IKEA’s position as a strong, sustainable partner.
John Shegerian: Welcome back to the Green Festival’s edition of Green is Good. We’re so honored to have with us today Lorna Montalvo. She’s from IKEA. She’s the Local Marketing Manager for New York. Welcome to Green is Good Lorna.
Lorna Montalvo: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.
John: Lorna, this is your first time on Green is Good. This is also IKEA’s first time on Green is Good, so it’s really an honor to have you on today.
Lorna: Thank you. We feel humbled by this.
John: You’re a local lady, grew up in the Bronx. You work out of Brooklyn now. Tell us a little bit more about the Lorna Montalvo journey. Did you ever dream this is what you’d be doing? Did you ever dream you’d be on the cutting edge of sustainability and the home industry? What was your upbringing like and how did you end up here?
Lorna: I grew up in the Bronx. I started out working at the Borough President’s Office in the Bronx for a little while. That was a really great experience. I learned a lot about what the Borough of the Bronx was doing. Then, from there, I realized that other boroughs were doing just as much in the City. From there, I went and I worked for a community newspaper group paper. I learned even more about other organizations, such as Sustainable South Bronx, Red Hook Initiative, which is actually a non-profit in Red Hook, which is also where the IKEA Brooklyn store is, and we have a relationship with them as well. It was interesting how all of the sudden, you know, you have this bigger New York picture and then all of the sudden you go down into a local level and all of the sudden, you know, here we are, IKEA Brooklyn, a big corporation working with some of our local business partners right here in Red Hook. It has been a journey, yeah.
John: How long ago did you join IKEA?
Lorna: It has been, I’m going to say, seven years about.
John: Seven years?
John: What position did you start in when you first joined?
Lorna: I started out in the marketing position. It was sort of a new position that IKEA hadn’t really established at the time. I came in and I figured it out pretty quickly what it was that I needed to do. Some of the things that are part of my role is community outreach in addition to the local marketing for the New York market. We keep our community outreach local, local, in the Red Hook community.
Lorna: Which is where we’re at.
John: In Red Hook in Brooklyn.
Lorna: Red Hook, Brooklyn. I always have to remember to say Brooklyn, because I feel everyone knows where Red Hook is.
John: For our listeners out there and our viewers, go to learn more about IKEA and all their great products. We’re going to talk about a lot of them today. You can go to www.IKEA.com. Talk a little bit about sustainability on a macro level. Sustainability in IKEA. How important is sustainability to IKEA?
Lorna: Extremely important. On a macro level in the U.S., IKEA owns the largest wind farm.
Lorna: In the U.S., we have two locations, one in Texas and one in Illinois. So, that’s on a global level. When you start going into the local levels each IKEA store, 38 out of the 44 stores, have solar panels and some are in the process of installing more. I remember speaking with our sustainability director for the U.S. organization, and I asked her, “So what does that mean for us?” She said, well, technically IKEA could build 40 more stores and still be neutral.
John: Carbon neutral?
Lorna: I thought that was amazing. For me, I thought, wow, that really is something as an organization to, not that that’s where we’re going to be going or maybe we will, but who knows. The point is that we’re there. We’re at a point where we can—-
John: You’re already doing more.
John: More than your share, producing more energy than you’re even using. Wow.
Lorna: Which is amazing.
John: That’s amazing. You know yesterday when I was getting ready for this interview, I read, in all the materials on IKEA, your sustainability report. It was tremendously impressive. Again, for our audience members, it’s right on your website, www.IKEA.com\sustainability. Let’s talk a little bit about that for a second. To IKEA, it seems like sustainability is truly a cultural and a DNA issue. It runs through every facet of your company.
Lorna: Yes, it does.
John: We were even talking earlier before we filmed the show. You and I and the producers were talking a little bit about you recently had a baby. They take the people and, you know, a sign of the people profits and sustainability, they take the people’s side of it, their employees very seriously and they make it very accessible and very mommy-friendly to work at IKEA in terms of taking care of the great people that they have. Is that not true?
Lorna: That is true. I scream about it to all of my friends, and I thought we weren’t going to talk about the lactation, but here we are.
Lorna: Yeah, it’s something that I use, obviously, every day now. They’ve made it very comfortable for me. I think women just happen to have this kind of guilt, especially when you go back to work and while you’re at work you have to leave a meeting to go do that. But my boss has made me feel very comfortable and my colleagues. My management group has made me feel very comfortable, and I’m glad to work with such a company. Other things, if we want to talk about the people piece of it—-
Lorna: We have a global pension program within IKEA. Here in the U.S., we already have our 401, and IKEA matches a nice chunk of it. Then, on a global level, every single employee is eligible for pension. It doesn’t matter if you are a manager or if it’s someone who works 20 hours a week, you are eligible for a pension and everybody gets the same amount, which I thought, wow, that’s amazing. So, you have different ways that the company is taking care of you, the benefits, of course, are really great, and our vacation time is amazing. I mean right now at five years I get almost five-and-a-half weeks vacation. Someone who just starts is close to about three weeks of vacation, and that’s really important here in New York. I’ve been in other companies where you don’t get that.
John: You’re right.
Lorna: It’s a bit of a struggle, and they really push for that work-life balance. It’s up to you to manage the time that they give you.
John: If you just joined us, we’ve got Lorna Montalvo on. She’s the Local Marketing Manager for the great brand IKEA at www.IKEA.com. Lorna, we have a lot of fun products here to talk about, so I want to move things along. Talk a little bit about how does IKEA make it easier for our listeners and our audience members to live more sustainably at home?
Lorna: I’m going to speak a little bit about New York, because that’s what I know.
Lorna: Here in New York, we know that it can be difficult. Many of us live in apartments. More than half of us rent.
John: Great point.
Lorna: So, how are you going to make living sustainably at home possible? Some of the things that you can do are replacing your taps or you faucets with some of the brands that we have that have aeration in it. So, when you are using say a bathroom tap that mixes air and water together you’re saving about 50 percent water. On our kitchen tap, you’re saving about 30 percent water on average. Other ways that we can work living sustainably is waste sorting. We make many different solutions. I mean you go anywhere else you have mostly just like these big bins, and here you sort them, but not everybody has a mudroom.
John: Mudroom? What’s going on here?
Lorna: I remember being on a conference call with IKEA, and somebody mentioned a mudroom and we’re going to push this and I said, “Oh my God, what is a mudroom?” While they’re talking, I’m on Wikipedia looking it up. I thought, wow, we don’t have that. We have an entrance to our apartments. So, mudrooms are where you’re supposed to take your shoes off when you first come into a home.
John: I gotcha.
Lorna: Okay. So, what I thought, well, what if we do waste sorting once we enter our homes? It’s right by the door, so as soon as you go out you can take it to your compact room or outside the building depending on the way you recycle in your building. Other ways are replacing blubs in your home. IKEA phased out years ago these compact fluorescents and we are in the process of phasing out now halogens. Right now, we have LED bulbs. We have the most affordable on the market. We’re looking at $4.49 a bulb.
John: And how long does that LED last approximately?
Lorna: We’re looking at about 25,000 hours.
John: Which is much longer than a tradition bulb.
Lorna: Yes. LEDs are great.
John: Twenty-five-thousand hours, wow. That’s incredible.
Lorna: You’re looking at quite a long time. You won’t leave them on for a while so you’re looking close to over a decade to 15 years for a bulb. Other things that IKEA is doing in the home that we’re pushing is growing your own. We have a Grow Your Own line that’s coming out and it’s about growing your own food at home, urban gardening.
Lorna: This is just a bit of a precursor just to start some of your—-
John: Like what’s in front of us here?
Lorna: Yes. It’s a greenhouse and, of course, when you purchase it, it is flat packed. You can get this for about $19.99 at the store, and you can start growing. You can start your tomatoes, start your basil, anything obviously that you want. Then, of course, we have another line where it works in a corner, so you can have all of your plants hanging in a corner with a tension rod so you don’t have to really drill into your walls because in New York you’re not allowed to drill into your walls. What we’re trying to do is to show our customers that we understand what it’s like to live in New York. We know that you can’t drill into your walls. We know that you have to pay rent. We know that it’s difficult to have that beautiful sorting station that most people generally have. Just little changes can make a big difference.
John: Is this already on sale at your store?
John: So, people are buying this to grow their own food in their apartment or their home?
John: Also, your furniture is very friendly for New York living, right? I mean you make furniture that can fit a large home but also be really great for a studio apartment as well, right? Very user-friendly.
Lorna: The flat pack works really well here in New York. An example is when we first opened the store we had a couch called EKTORP. It’s been in the IKEA family for years. It’s a regular sofa. In the beginning, we found many people returning it. When we finally asked why it’s because it couldn’t fit through the entranceway or it couldn’t turn going up a walkway. So, we were very excited when IKEA took that same sofa and boxed it into two separate pieces so now people can actually bring it into their homes. The flat pack concept is in itself green because you’re not shipping air. When you think about other retailers where you have these big pieces of furniture, the cost of shipping it is astronomical, and of course, you have to think about the petrol that’s being used to ship that particular item. When we ship items it’s not uncommon where it’s in a container and someone will kind of like stuff some pillows o duvet cover just to take up that little extra bit of space because IKEA does not want to ship air.
John: Wow. So, they’re very careful on their logistics in terms of they get the maximum on all their logistics in terms of their shipping.
John: That’s incredible. The other thing that I read in your sustainability report last night is let’s talk a little bit about sourcing. IKEA is very careful in terms of the wood, the cotton and all the sourcing. Can you share a little bit about sourcing for all of your great products at IKEA?
Lorna: Okay. We’ll start with something IKEA has called IWAY. It’s also in the sustainability report if anybody wants more details. Getting down to the brass it’s a program that IKEA uses to make sure that the suppliers that they are working with is working in a sustainable way. Not just from the way we source the wood, but to the way that they treat their employees. It’s very important. So, we work with a forestry standard. It is using wood from sustainable sources. We will never go into a forest that is endangered or where animals are endangered. Basically, for every piece of wood or tree that we take down we always plant more.
John: Isn’t that amazing?
Lorna: It is.
John: That’s great. Also your cotton. Talk a little bit about your sustainable cotton program.
Lorna: We love working with cotton because it is soft. It’s breathable but conventional cotton farming is not the best. It is not the best environment in general and not the best environment for the people who grow it. So, we work with farmers to raise standards and we prohibit child labor. We also have adopted a holistic approach to sustainability issues surrounding the cotton production. By the end of 2015, our target is that all cotton used will be from sustainable sources produced in line with the Better Cotton Initiative standards.
John: Gotcha. So, everything that you source, all the products, when we walk around an IKEA store it’s safe to say that it’s all about people, profits and planet that the sourcing of all the furniture you’re selling and all the items your selling is truly done in the most sustainable way.
Lorna: Right. Beside cotton, we use other products such as lyocell, which is based in tree pulp. We have some of our bed linens that are made of that. We have another material called ramie. It’s a grass. It can be harvested six times a year and is so much easier to harvest than cotton, and it’s very durable. We use other materials such as wool just to make sure it’s not all based in cotton. We explore different products.
John: What are we looking at here? What is this? Can you show our listeners and our viewers what is this here?
Lorna: This is called SOLVINDEN. I hope I’m saying this right. My boss is Swedish. She likes correcting me. It stands for sun and wind.
John: Sun and wind.
Lorna: Which kind of makes sense, right?
John: Yeah and what does that do?
Lorna: It is a solar powered light.
Lorna: It’s part of our summer line. We also have certain light fixtures that go outside. They’re also wind powered. I have one on my balcony.
John: Can I look at this?
Lorna: Sure. I have one of my balcony and it’s been there for over two years because I am lazy too and I just never took it down. But, it still works.
John: So, this is a solar panel here?
John: For our viewers, this is the solar panel on top of this light. It’s very, very light to hold, beautiful wood on top, solar panel. So what, I could just put this on a table outside, the sun hits it and this lights up?
Lorna:It lights up at night, yeah.
John:And it will stay lit for hours after the sun goes down?
Lorna: Yeah, depending on how much it powered, closed to eight hours.
John: This is amazing.
Lorna: That’s just a tiny bit, you know.
John: Tip of the iceberg of all the sustainable and interesting products that IKEA is selling.
John: This is $12.99!
Lorna: Yes it is.
John: Solar light, $12.99. I think you just sold one here. We’re down to the last two minutes Lorna. I want to give you the chance to share some final thoughts with regards to IKEA sustainability, your seven years working there and how our audience members and listeners can engage with IKEA to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
Lorna: On a local level, I can tell you that we have something call the IKEA Coworker Challenge. We’ve been doing it every year. Each year we work with a local non-profit in our community to help better the community that we live in. What we do is we have our own employees. They create a proposal. Our management team votes on it and then we bring it down to a smaller, maybe three, and then from there the public votes on it. That happens every year and that’s called the Coworker Challenge, the Life Improvement Challenge.
John: So, the clients from the store, your customers, vote on one of those three and they chose one non-profit in your community?
John: Give an example of which one you’ve worked with.
Lorna: In the past, we have worked with the Red Hook Initiative. We’ve worked with a place called Conover House in Red Hook. Our winner this year is a place called Alex House. What they do is provide classes to young mothers and parenting classes. They do food donations, healthy eating and it’s right here in our community. What I found out what’s really great about something like that is that our own employees actually take part in some of the classes that the woman, her name is Samara, who is running the program puts on. In our own community we have the Red Hook Community Center. We installed solar panels on the community center. That came from Sandy. We realized that after Sandy we weren’t prepared in the community to withstand such a disaster. If you ever wanted to go to the Red Hook pools, they do have solar panels on their roof and that’s for the community of Red Hook.
John: Lorna, you’re amazing and IKEA is just doing great things both locally and internationally. We thank you for your time today. For our listeners out there to learn more about IKEA and all the great things they sell and also do to make the world a better place, please go to www.IKEA.com. Lorna Montalvo, you are a sustainability superstar and truly living proof that green is good.