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Is IKEA Sustainable?

Is IKEA Sustainable?
 

There has been much discussion over the past few years about whether or not IKEA and its products and practices are sustainable, so I thought I’d chip in my two cents. Here are the the primary points of each side of the argument:

Yes, IKEA is Sustainable:

  • IKEA has policies and practices in place to ensure the materials they purchase are from suppliers that have fair labor practices and forestry operations that do not participate in illegal logging. They have also placed emphasis on procurement of organic products for their food operations.
  • IKEA practically pioneered the “flat pack” box which not only helps consumers haul their purchases home, but also allows IKEA to transport their products to their stores more efficiently, saving carbon emissions in the process. IKEA also deliberately engineers their products to require as little packaging as possible.
  • IKEA has been ahead of the game in reducing the amount of Urea Formaldehyde in their composite wood products. Similarly, IKEA uses chlorine-free paper for their catalogs, avoids optical brighteners in bedding and other textiles, and has completely banned the use of PVC except in electrical cords.
  • IKEA has made deliberate steps away from incandescent lighting, promoting compact fluorescent bulbs as well as newer, LED strategies.
  • IKEA has recently launched a plan to install solar panel arrays on 150 stores. They also use geo-exchange heating and cooling systems on several stores to reduce energy consumption.
  • IKEA has two LEED certified stores in the United States
  • IKEA has comprehensive plans and partnerships to address social responsibility from annual drives to provide disadvantaged children with soft toys and solar lamps to tree planting campaigns and work with UNICEF and the World Wildlife Fund.

No, IKEA is not sustainable:

  • IKEA is about low cost home goods and “cheap” products do not last, which will eventually contribute to this countries growing landfills. Buying products that last a life time is inherently a more sustainable choice
  • IKEA has a habit of locating their stores in suburbs, rather than urban centers, which results in higher emissions from shoppers traveling to the stores
  • While IKEA has requirements for suppliers to follow requiring fair employee treatment and raw material harvesting, they lack the workforce necessary to oversee and enforce these policies
  • IKEA is quick to talk about past accomplishments, but reluctant to talk about future plans. What are their future goals?

So, what does it all mean? To me, it means that while IKEA has made some great strides in improving their products and processes since beginning to push sustainability n 1999, like other large retailers they still have work to do. In fact, IKEA has recently admitted that becoming more sustainable is a never-ending job. To help document the strides they have made, they have recently launched the “never-ending list“, which is a list of sustainability accomplishments large and small. The IKEA critics do have some valid points, and IKEA would be smart to work to address them, but overall I can shop at IKEA and still sleep at night.

Want to read more? Below are some additional resources on this topic:

IKEA’s 2009 Sustainability Report

“Buy to Last” : Article in the Atlantic about how IKEA is not sustainable

“Is it Green?”: Post on inhabitat about IKEA

  1. Green Home Guide09-07-10

    I think a top priority for many IKEA shoppers is indoor air quality. Anecdotally, I see predominately young families when I shop at IKEA, likely very concerned about IAQ impacts on their kids’ health.

    Did your research turn up any data on emissions from IKEA products?

    Willem.

  2. Allison McKenzie09-08-10

    While I cannot say IKEA is perfect on all fronts from an IAQ standpoint, I think they are taking some pretty impressive steps to protect IAQ. Their initiatives such as meeting very stringent caps on urea formaldehyde, prohibiting PVC use and eliminating optical brighteners in textiles are a great start. For the Habitat for Humanity sustainable house model I just finished designing I actually suggested the use of IKEA cabinetry for the kitchen and bath because their cabinets were made of more environmentally preferable composite wood (including extremely low urea formaldehyde) than I could find in anything else that I could consider cost competitive. Perfect? Definitely not, but certainly much better than other options available to a young family on a budget.

  3. Greenguy04-23-11

    “IKEA has a habit of locating their stores in suburbs, rather than urban centers, which results in higher emissions from shoppers traveling to the stores”

    But that’s where the majority of their customers live! I suspect that their real estate boards are keenly aware of travel distances and service zones and are placing the stores where they will be accessible to the largest target audience. This is not necessarily a sustainable strategy but a retail one. The larger problem is that most cities only get one IKEA, so part of the population (a minority) is going to have to travel farther than others. Building multiple stores isn’t any more sustainable, so it’s going to be a matter of pluses and minuses.

  4. Matt06-30-12

    “While IKEA has requirements for suppliers to follow requiring fair employee treatment and raw material harvesting, they lack the workforce necessary to oversee and enforce these policies”

    That statement is simply not true! IKEA has a large internal compliance organisation with the one and only task to monitor and coach suppliers in order to make sure they follow IKEA’s strict code of conduct. In addition 3rd part audits are carried on regular basis.

    There is also a body within IKEA with the task to calibrate the compliance organisation to make sure the same judgements and requirements are implemented everywhere.

  5. Mickey09-24-12

    I’m not sure if I agree with your claim that IKEA products don’t last – in my experience their furniture lasts for years. I’ve had a dining table for over 20 years which now does good service as a desk in my home office. Bedside cabinets and chests of drawers still look as good as new, and work, after more than 10 years. The style also means that they haven’t really gone out of fashion either…

  6. Allison McKenzie09-24-12

    Mickey- I think it just depends on which products you purchase. I also have IKEA pieces that have lasted years and are still in great shape and very much “in style”, but I have purchased some pieces that fell apart pretty quickly or broke as well.

  7. Nicola02-17-13

    I don’t agree with your statement that ‘IKEA has a habit of locating their stores in suburbs, rather than urban centers, which results in higher emissions from shoppers traveling to the stores’

    The IKEA Portland, Oregon store has public transport going to their site and they also encourage the public to ride the Max transit system and offer a $20 discount on home delivery by doing so.

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