IKEA Kansas City Goes Green

The Swedish furniture retailer brings cutting-edge energy practices to Kansas City. Will other retailers follow the example?

Big news after the IKEA Kansas City announcement

As KC area residents eagerly await the fall 2014 debut of their very own IKEA in the Kansas City suburb of Merriam, the Swedish furniture maker recently unveiled more big news. This will be no ordinary IKEA, but rather a deluxe-edition green IKEA that will incorporate geothermal technology into its heating and cooling system.

“Reflecting our Swedish heritage, IKEA has strong respect for the environment,” IKEA spokesman Joseph Roth says. “As a result of this commitment, sustainability is a cornerstone of our business plan. We believe that IKEA can be a good business while doing good business, and our sustainable investments have validated this practice.”

Kansas City has yet to see a geothermal system of this magnitude, the company proclaims. In fact, IKEA says this will be the largest geothermal project in the history of both Kansas and Missouri. As it turns out, the nearly 19-acre parcel in Merriam that will house the 359,000-square-foot store is indeed a hotspot for cutting-edge geothermal technology, pun intended.

Using geothermal in the IKEA Kansas City store reflects our commitment to sustainable building practices whenever feasible,” IKEA U.S. President Mike Ward says. “Fortunately, this location provides an opportunity to maximize IKEA Merriam’s renewable energy potential.”

IKEA Merriam’s geothermal system will be a closed-loop ground source heat pump system that requires the drilling of 180 boreholes six inches in diameter and 600 feet deep. Pipes will be laid into these boreholes to form an underground network of loops for circulating 36,000 gallons of heat-transferring liquid. The pipe system will connect to 64 forced-air heat pumps used to heat and cool the massive store.

Implementing geothermal technology benefits IKEA because it reduces the store’s operating costs in addition to its carbon footprint. Nevertheless, a project of this size and magnitude doesn’t come without challenges. Roth admits, “It is a challenging site in terms of its size and configuration. But, fortunately, we are able to drill deep enough for the 180 boreholes [to be] 600 feet deep.”

Denver Did It First

Besides Kansas City, Denver is the only other U.S. city to feature one of IKEA’s geothermal-run stores. That branch, IKEA Centennial, opened in 2011 and was well received by locals, according to Roth. “The city of Centennial, Colo., and much of the Denver area appeared very appreciative and supportive of our store’s sustainable initiatives,” he says.

Based on the success of IKEA Centennial, the company expects a similar reaction from Kansas Citians. “I know the city of Merriam, Kan., already recognized the sustainable commitment of IKEA early in our discussions and certainly appears very pleased with how plans are proceeding for our Kansas City area store, especially now that we’re incorporating geothermal into the project,” Roth says.

Globally, 50 of IKEA’s 340+ stores use geothermal systems. The company has rooftop solar arrays at 90 percent of its locations and says that the Merriam branch is currently “being evaluated for solar potential.” IKEA predicts the drilling and underground work for the Merriam store will be completed this winter. The system itself will be operational by the time IKEA opens its doors to customers next fall.

According to Roth, IKEA will not receive local, regional or federal tax benefits for building a green store, per se. However, “There are economic opportunities available depending on the environmental technology being utilized,” he explains.

 Perks of Doing Business in the Kansas City Metro

There is no denying the immediate benefits IKEA brings to Kansas City. It is estimated that roughly 500 jobs are being generated from the construction process alone, and 300 more people will have jobs working at the store. “We are thrilled to be paying the retail and property tax as part of the economic contribution as well,” Roth says. Plus, IKEA stores tend to be regional draws. “We expect that to be the case in Merriam as well, attracting customers from throughout the Kansas City area as well as beyond.”

Kansas City’s economic stability and growth made it an ideal market for opening an IKEA store. “IKEA always has recognized that the customer base would exist for us in the area, and we already have more than 60,000 customers in the area,” Roth says. “Kansas City also is sufficiently distanced from IKEA stores in Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Minneapolis. The fact that there are only 38 stores in the country, with a presence limited to larger metropolitan areas, adds to the cache too.”

IKEAs are known for being successful anchor stores in that they tend to provoke a “ripple effect” for other retail developments. “I think other businesses frequently recognize this phenomenon and choose to develop or locate within a certain proximity of IKEA to maximize exposure to a larger base of customers,” Roth says. “We believe it creates a win-win situation for the customers and for the retailers alike.”

IKEA’s made a believer out of Merriam Mayor Ken Sissom. “Before being officially contacted by the folks of IKEA, I knew very little about this company,” he admits. “Since then, I have been nothing but impressed with their products, their professionalism and now with the level of care this company has toward sustainability. IKEA has already shown itself to be a great corporate partner in our community.”

Story by Kathryn Jones