By Elly Leavitt

Published on February 1, 2018

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Photography by IKEA

Given its sheer size and ridiculously affordable prices, you might think that a retail giant like Ikea is not necessarily at the forefront of eco-friendly production. But not only is the flatpack furniture purveyor actively working towards a more sustainable future, it’s actually winning awards for its efforts. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Ikea was honored with the circular economy award for its comprehensive approach to smarter resource usage. And according to The Telegraph, the retailer is currently testing out furniture buyback and rental programs.

Jasper Brodin, chief executive of Ikea, touched on these initiatives at the World Economic Forum.

“We are testing radical solutions,” said Brodin, as reported by The Telegraph. “There are very different levels of interest depending which city you are in. In London, for example, there are a lot of people who commute and they are not interested in building a second home, so rental there is more interesting.” Brodin also discussed an experiment Ikea was rolling out in Japan to buy back sofas from customers, and then recycling the materials.

In addition to the recent announcement, Ikea has been quietly testing furniture take-back for almost two years. The company’s 2016 sustainability report mentions how in some markets, customers are able to take their unwanted furniture back to Ikea stores. Such is the case with Finland, where Ikea Family members—a free program with tons of perks you should sign up for ASAP—can return furniture in exchange for a gift card. The store then donates the discarded items to local charity partners.

At the forum, Brodin emphasized how circular production features like this are indeed the future of retail. “If the last decades were about mass consumerism, now we are getting towards mass circularity. You could build in an economic incentive. You build in a consciousness with consumers that they don’t have to own it, but own this collectively in the world and recycle it,” he said. 

While it’s always important to support smaller, local businesses (and the ethical benefits of doing so should not be overlooked), the significance of such a massive global company putting eco-friendly production first is huge. It’s safe to assume that one of the biggest suppliers of affordable, easily accessible furniture is also creating a lot of waste in the process. This is not lost on Steve Howard, Ikea’s chief sustainability officer, who highlights the importance of reducing the environmental impact caused by disposing furniture and home decor in the 2016 report.  

“We also want a waste-free world, and that’s why we support a shift to the circular economy that turns waste into a resource for new products,” writes Howard. “We’re using more recycled content in our products, supplying over one million spare parts for easy repair each year, and looking at how we can support our customers to prolong the lives of their products.”

The fact that Ikea is actively investigating rental and buyback features for its products may be its most recent newsworthy announcement, but it’s not the first time the company has spearheaded more eco-friendly projects.

The retailer kicked off 2017 with a line of sustainable kitchen cabinets that are actually chic. As part of last year’s Sustainable Living Your Way Event, Ikea held a nationwide “Furniture Take-Back” day in partnership with Goodwill. In August 2017, it started selling solar panels in the UK. And, perhaps most important for fans of the iconic Frakta bag (i.e. literally everyone), Ikea has plans to unveil an eco-friendly version of the tote by 2019 made entirely from upcycled packets of potato chips.  

Stay tuned to discover what other green initiatives Ikea has in store for 2018. We’re personally hoping that the furniture rental service becomes a reality ASAP; can you imagine how revolutionary this would be for rental apartments?

See more Ikea stories:

Ikea’s New Collection Is All About Color (and We Want Everything)
8 Ingenious Ways to Hack Ikea’s Billy Bookcase
Ikea’s New Partnership Will Change the Way You Listen to Music

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