Blog by Scott Hemphill, Global Sustainability Developer at IKEA Transport


The Inter IKEA Group is committed to the Paris Agreement on climate change and is currently in the process of setting Science-Based Targets to reduce our emissions in line with the 1.5°-2°C climate objectives. We are committed to taking a leadership role, going beyond our own footprint, engaging with others and inspiring action.

The IKEA Transport decarbonisation agenda for goods transport is based on the principles of “reduce”, “replace” and “rethink”. We aim to reduce fuel consumption as much as possible by ensuring our transport service providers use only new trucks and implement all possible means to increase fuel efficiency. The “replace” component focuses on replacing fossil fuels with more sustainable alternatives, with lower carbon and air emission impacts. Under “rethink”, we are actively working on more wide-reaching actions to achieve even higher CO2 reductions, such as network optimisations and the use of alternative modes of transport such as rail, barge and short-sea solutions.

Our decarbonisation agenda has so far helped us to reduce our CO2 emissions per cubic metre of goods sold by nearly 30% since our fiscal year 2012; which means we have nearly hit our 2020 target already. As we develop even more challenging absolute emission reduction targets in line with the Paris agreement, we will further increase our use of low-carbon fuels, actively seek out new innovations and switch as much transport as possible onto cleaner intermodal solutions.

IKEA Transport currently transports 19% of IKEA’s goods using intermodal solutions and is striving for increasing this proportion further. These efforts always need to be seen in the context of other ongoing activities in areas such as alternative fuels and within network optimisation. Due to the well-established rail network and the increasing availability of low-carbon electricity in Europe, rail is an excellent alternative to conventional diesel-powered truck transportation from a climate perspective. Intermodal rail transport currently accounts for 13% of IKEA’s total goods transport and we are set to increase this rate significantly in the future.

The benefits of rail freight, however, extend beyond reductions in CO2 emissions. Electric rail transport completely eliminates the emission of pollutant gases and particulate matter along transport routes, and reduces traffic congestion and noise.

The short distances involved in the pre- and on-carriage transport to and from rail terminals also open the possibility of electric trucking, as range is not a limiting factor. IKEA has been testing electric pre- and on-carriage transport in California and is looking to expand the use of electric trucks to other locations as the technology becomes more feasible.

Flexibility and good planning allows IKEA in many cases to accommodate the longer transit times for rail freight compared to road transport. The following pre-conditions, however, would help IKEA to further increase the use of rail freight:

  • Daily departures and/or more flexibility on departure times would make rail transport easier to integrate into existing transport networks and timelines.
  • More flexibility and scalability of loading unit capacity would allow shippers to start rail transport with fewer loading units and increase shipments over time as volumes increase.
  • The time needed to implement a new rail freight route should be significantly reduced in order to offer a comparable alternative to road transport. Starting a new rail freight route can take up to six months compared to only a week for a road route of comparable distance.
  • Contingency planning for rail freight needs to be improved to ensure the continued flow of goods when rail freight is delayed. The ability to move freight onto alternative railway lines, or onto road transport when necessary, should be better planned to avoid or at least minimise shipment delays.

Outside of Europe, rail networks are not as well established and many of the railway lines available for goods transportation are not electrified, which can have an impact on the potential benefits of rail. Nevertheless, IKEA will continue to explore intermodal options, including rail, in all regional we are active.

In summary, rail provides a stable and sustainable means of transport in an industry where road transport will be increasingly impacted by stricter emission requirements, future fuel price volatility, accusations of social dumping and truck driver shortages.