11/10/2016 11:56 BST | Updated 07/10/2017 06:12 BST

Can Companies Help Customers Live More Sustainably?

Forward thinking companies such as Unilever have realised that they need to change to address global environmental challenges like climate change. These companies are fundamentally shifting how they do business from the way they source products through to the types of energy they use. But can they persuade their customers to join with them?

Few companies have successfully overcome this conundrum. It is difficult to persuade customers to change behaviour or buying patterns without accusations of being part of the nanny state or over-stepping their remit. Perhaps, though, IKEA has found a way to address the dilemma.

IKEA has selected a great Swedish word to describe its approach. LAGOM is a Swedish word meaning not too much and not too little - in other words just the right amount. In a nutshell, it encapsulates the essence of sustainability: not sacrificing the things you love, while not taking more than you need from the planet.

The LiveLAGOM project is designed to help IKEA's customers live a more resourceful and healthy life. And importantly, it contains a number of unique elements that could act as a model for other companies to copy.

The first bold step the company has taken is to offer 125 of its customers in the UK a £500 IKEA voucher which they can spend on any IKEA product to help them save energy, cut waste, reduce water use or live a healthier life. The power of choice has been handed firmly over to customers, enabling them to select products that fit their personal requirements. Over 8,500 customers applied to participate on the basis of this offer, and another round of recruitment has just begun for people to take part next year.

IKEA has taken significant steps to help households make informed choices. A new Hidden Gems brochure has been created highlighting products that can help people live healthier lifestyles and from which the participants could choose how to spend their £500.

All of the selected 125 households were offered a store tour allowing them to see the products first hand and meet other local LiveLAGOM participants. Each person had a home visit where they were able to discuss their ideas and the challenges they faced in living more sustainably. These visits helped them decide what products to purchase and define what they hoped to achieve.

Each of the participants was offered social media training and they have been actively encouraged to write blogs and share their experiences - good and bad. This focus on social media has resulted in a vibrant community on WhatsAp and Facebook, with people providing each other with inspiration and support.

Finally IKEA has commissioned the University of Surrey to undertake a three year longitudinal study to understand the impact that has been achieved. This will assess environmental savings, the impact on household finances and whether there have been any wider social benefits. Results will be shared openly enabling other companies to learn from IKEA's experience.

LiveLAGOM is a radical departure from the usual way companies engage with their customers on all things environmental and it will be intriguing to see how the results unfold based on the work of the University of Surrey. In order to create real change and make sustainability an attractive lifestyle choice, companies need to work hand-in-hand with their customers, listen to their feedback and learn from their insights.

IKEA has just released the results from the first year of LiveLAGOM and already five things have become clear:

1.Customers have focussed most of their spending on LED lighting, ways to cut food waste and increased energy efficiency.

2.The power of collective action has been considerable with the households acting as a self-supporting community helping each other to take action.

3.Many households have used the project to rethink lifestyle priorities. We have seen a greater desire for self-sufficiency, a wish to spend more quality time with the family and steps towards de-cluttering.

4.The Hidden Gems catalogue has helped employees and customers understand how certain products can help people live more sustainably and has made it easier for them to explain why this is the case.

5.Any behaviour change initiative takes time to gain traction and the fact that IKEA has made a three-year commitment to LiveLAGOM has given confidence to those involved that there is real corporate backing to the campaign's ambitions.