IKEA is working towards its goal of becoming a fully circular and climate positive business by 2030.
Everyone’s favourite flat pack furniture store recently announced its new Buy Back initiative – which, as the name implies, will see IKEA buy back unwanted IKEA furniture from customers and resell it as second-hand in store. The scheme was scheduled to launch on Black Friday but, with England’s second lockdown and temporary store closures, it has been postponed until January 2021.
Buy Back is just another step towards how IKEA hopes to be a driving force behind changes in unsustainable consumption patterns and making more from less – and there’s a long way to go. So, over a Zoom video call, we talked all things ‘sustainable’ with Hege Sæbjørnsen, Country Sustainability Manager at IKEA UK & Ireland.
‘2020 is the year that kicks off the decade of climate action globally, and these 10 years are absolutely critical,’ Hege begins. ‘We’ve been really ramping up and accelerating our commitment across the business. This is really the perfect time to make sure we play a critical role in making sustainable and healthy living more mainstream and affordable for everyone.’
‘The second-hand market in the UK is very thriving. It’s also just smart shopping,’ declares Hege. ‘We have all of these digital platforms and apps, it’s super simple, also there’s quite a high turnover of people moving, and coming and going to the city, so it’s partly about being relevant and meeting people where they are and how they want to shop.’
The Buy Back scheme essentially gives a second life to IKEA products at a lower price. Eligible products include dressers, display storage and sideboards, bookcases, dining tables and desks, and much more. Hege says they’ve made the process as simple and streamlined as possible.
After filling in an online form on IKEA’s website, you’ll get a quotation back immediately based on the quality and condition of the product. You could get as much as 50 per cent of the original price if it’s as good as new with no scratches; 40 per cent if it has minor scratches; and 30 per cent of the original price if it’s well-used with several scratches.
The furniture in question needs to be clean, unmodified and completely assembled. And once returned to store, it will undergo a physical inspection by an IKEA co-worker. In exchange, you will get a voucher of the resale value – and better still, there is no use-by date.
‘This is really important because we’re really highlighting a mindset shift,’ says Hege. The shift is from ‘what do I want and what can I buy?’ to ‘what don’t I need, what can I move out of my home, and who else might want to use some of my pre-loved Ikea furniture?’
The second-hand items will be resold as received and, as Hege emphasises, ‘that is the same price that we will sell it as too, so there is no mark up for IKEA in the process – we pass on the value to the customer’.
Of course, it does pose the question, what if some second-hand furniture just doesn’t sell? ‘We make sure we get that recycled, so that nothing goes to waste,’ Hege confirms. ‘There is no landfill, there is no incineration of products, so again it’s that circular mindset from start to finish.’
As a reminder for all of you IKEA hackers out there, unmodified items are not eligible. ‘It’s fair to highlight that we can’t accept products that have been modified because that is actually potentially in breach of the quality control – we have to abide by the quality control aspect,’ Hege explains.
We ask if there are any plans on IKEA’s side to perhaps upcycle or spruce up these products before reselling, transforming a scratched piece of furniture into something that looks brand new before reselling?
‘It’s a good idea,’ Hege responds. ‘Hopefully there are all sorts of opportunities that we can look into. Who knows what we will do for the future. We obviously know there is a huge appetite and network of people who are doing all kinds of interesting things, with repurposing and hacking IKEA furniture. I guess we would hope that when people do take a piece of second-hand IKEA furniture away with them, they are very likely to modify it themselves or to repurpose it, which is very common.’
New to IKEA
At the beginning of November, IKEA opened a standalone second-hand store in Sweden. The first of its kind for the Swedish company, the brick-and-mortar store is conveniently located in the ReTuna shopping mall in Eskilstuna; the world’s first second-hand shopping centre.
‘We’re trialling and testing different innovative models in different markets,’ says Hege. ‘We’ve also been testing ideas like leasing of office furniture in Finland and now we’re launching Buy Back, and that was trialled first in Portugal and Australia.’
So will a solo second-hand store come to the UK? ‘We’ll continue to test different models and I think the key is to find scalable ones that are relevant and meaningful for every market. I think the ambition is to move towards circularity and towards making sure that no product goes to waste, and then we’ll see what the right solutions for our markets might be,’ Hege explains.
IKEA’s Greenwich store: the benchmark for sustainability
And of course, we can’t talk about sustainability without mentioning the £100 million Greenwich megastore. Opened in February 2019, IKEA’s leading sustainable store in Greenwich was its first full-sized store of its kind to open in London in 14 years. There’s a wildlife park, roof garden, pavilion and Learning Lab, to name a few, whilst renewable construction materials and green technologies include solar panels, rainwater harvesting, geothermal heating and 100 per cent LED lighting.
Could the Greenwich store become a benchmark for future stores? ‘Of course, when we’ve cracked a model and we’ve built a successful store like that, it might look a bit different but the principles will be taken on and designed into new stores,’ Hege responds. ‘It’s different with stores when we don’t own the building or when we lease, that’s just the nature of it, but we’re constantly learning and building.’
Sustainable products & materials
‘To make all our products 100 per cent circular, all 12,000 plus products will be made by recyclable and renewable materials by 2030,’ reveals Hege.
Examples of how IKEA is avoiding waste and using resources efficiently, include launching energy-efficient induction hobs and energy-saving cellular blinds, and phasing out single-use plastic from its home furnishing range and its restaurants, cafes and bistros.
On the materials side, reaching 91 per cent of its goal, IKEA is aiming for all of its wood to come from more sustainable sources including FSC certified and recycled wood; all cotton is already responsibly sourced; and it is on a journey to transform all the wool used in its products to 100 per cent Responsibly Sourced Wool.
‘One of my favourites when it launched was the KUNGSBACKA kitchen, which is a really sleek, sexy kitchen, good design, looks great, but it’s actually made from recycled materials,’ says Hege.
‘The fronts are recycled PET bottles and the cabinets are made from wood waste from our production. It’s an example of where you don’t have to compromise between quality, price and design, and that’s part of our Democratic Design principles as well.’
Another innovation is seen on PLATSA, a modular shelving system. ‘We’re designing products for disassembly and reassembly, and repurposing and mending, as well from scratch,’ she explains. ‘There’s a specific click-in mechanism called the wedge dowel where you don’t have to use screws – it’s amazing what you can get excited by! This is an example of bringing an innovative mindset to products.’
The journey and the future
As more households look to reduce their carbon footprint and make easy eco-swaps, it’s the small steps that can make a significant impact on our health, wellbeing, and the planet.
‘We’ve learnt that generally people don’t necessarily engage with the word “sustainability”, so how do you talk in a different language?,’ questions Hege. ‘How do you show examples of how real people live in a store? So you can go in store and see an actual home environment that relates to how you live your life and the decisions that you make. We’re constantly on the journey to do that.’
IKEA has an ambitious roadmap to transform its way of working from linear to circular, by using creativity and knowledge to scale ideas, collaborating on challenges and to be a partner for positive change (IKEA Sustainability Strategy – People & Planet Positive, August 2018).
Hege concludes: ‘It’s sometimes an oxymoron that it comes from the IKEAs of the world, but the linear model of making, selling and buying has made us very successful but it’s not going to support us to survive in the future, and it’s certainly not going to support thriving environments for people and planet, so we know we have to transform our business model and that’s absolutely core to how we operate.
‘Mainstreaming sustainable and healthy living, becoming people and planet positive and also supporting the creation of a fair and equal society are absolutely the trinity of how we’re trying to transform.
‘Ultimately, we don’t think we have the licence to operate if we don’t do those things and we don’t think we’ll be relevant for the future either if we don’t take these strategies seriously, so we see them as absolutely core to both thriving as a business but also how we remain relevant as a business.’
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