Retailers utilise a huge range of additional materials in the production of goods such as electricals, homecare and beauty products.
Metals, ceramics, timber, plastics and much more make their way into products, each with their own extraction and processing footprints. The emissions that these materials embody are complex. For example, timber (separate from pulp and board used in paper packaging) is linked to risk for deforestation as well as high energy used in harvesting, processing and transporting.
At a company level, these emissions also vary depending on both the relative emissions footprint of a commodity and the volume of that material used. IKEA, for example, uses more wood and natural fibres by weight than any other material, at approximately 80% of the retailer’s material utilisation. However, plastic and metal – used in much smaller volumes – account for 42% of the company’s climate footprint for materials, while wood and natural fibres account for only 37%. Every retailer will have a unique makeup of materials and processes that will influence the most meaningful interventions to reduce emissions.
Routes to decarbonisation for other materials
The foremost route to decarbonising the materials used by the retail industry is through the development of the circular economy. According to analysis by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy could reduce annual global greenhouse gas emissions from key industry materials by 40% or 3.7 billion tonnes in 2050. The key circular economy approaches include: designing out waste, reusing products and components; and recirculating materials. At the moment the global economy is only 8.6% circular – and retailers can play a key role in developing supporting new circular business models and products that can support the Paris Agreement.
As a first step, recycling and repurposing across material types will be crucial to increasing circularity. Filling in gaps in the path to material circularity – through product refurbishment, repair and resale, for example – offers not only emissions reductions, but also untapped business opportunities for retailers to explore.
 IKEA Sustainability Report FY19 (2019). IKEA.
 Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2019) Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change
 The Circularity Gap Report 2020. CCRi.