March 13, 2013
IKEA Furniture Life Cycle of Raw Materials
IKEA is a worldwide furniture store popular for its build it yourself furniture. IKEA was named after the founder’s initials, Ingvar Kamprad, and the first letter of his farm and village, Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd. Kamprad began selling furniture in 1947 with the intention of selling it for a very low cost for more people to be able to buy (Edmonds). Currently, IKEA is mostly focusing on its sustainable design rather than the actually do-it-yourself furniture design. IKEA is devoted to preserving raw materials, saving energy use, and eliminating as much waste as possible. IKEA gets their main raw materials (wood and cotton) from sustainable sources and seeks to decrease raw material use and waste outputs by finding alternative material to use. IKEA uses a tool called the “e-Wheel” to analyze the four stages of a product’s life cycle, which includes resource extractions, production, use, and recycling/end-of-life. It helps evaluate the environmental impact of the products they are supplying and keep track of the use of raw material (“About IKEA”).
IKEA did not focus a lot on its build it yourself furniture, but it received some criticism from customers saying that building the furniture was too difficult. However, IKEA does offer service for people to come and put it together for customers for a small fee (Edmonds). In this perspective, IKEA is less convenient for customers because other furniture stores would have the furniture already in one piece transported to their home (“FAQ”). IKEA seeks to use fewer raw materials and substitute other materials to be more sustainable.
Design Starts With a Price Constraint
Different from most furniture stores, IKEA puts a price tag for their product first. Then, the designers must analyze the entire production process of the product from the raw materials to the amount of energy use to the delivery system. The designer has to meet the goal of staying within the budget and calculate that the selling the product will gain enough to profit from (Edmonds).
IKEA’s setup of the store is clever in trying to have consumers buy their products. The stroll of the store guides customers with arrows from the entrance to the long way to the cash register forcing the customers to see all the IKEA products. They have rooms showcased for customers to see and then the products are placed later in the walk for customers to purchase and then through the location of where the furniture is placed all the way to the checkout line. IKEA furniture tends to sell well in all of their locations and “the average each customer spends in a visit [is] about $85, [which] is also the same in all countries” (Edmonds).
Source of Wood
IKEA’s two most important raw materials are wood and cotton and about 50 percent of IKEA’s 9,500 products are made from wood or wood fibers. Wood is considered as a good resource when it comes from a sustainable source because it is recyclable and renewable (“Building a Sustainable Supply Chain”). IKEA does not accept illegally felled wood or wood harvested from intact natural forests and only accepts wood from high conservation value forest or intact natural forest if they are verified as “responsibly managed” (“Raw Materials”). The top five wood sourcing countries are Poland, Russia, China, Romania, and Sweden (IKEA). IKEA actually has their own forest specialists who share knowledge and trace timber back to its origins at suppliers (“Raw Materials”). IKEA seeks to increase the availability of certified wood, specifically in regions of China and Russia, and finds ways to decrease the use of raw material as well as searching for alternative material that will prevent resources from being scarce (IKEA). IKEA tries to use as much of the material from every tree trunk. For example, the NORDEN birch tabled, “introduced in 1998, was probably the first time anyone had thought of making furniture from the knotty top part of the birch tree instead of burning it as firewood or grinding it for chipboard production” (“Raw Materials”). The top five tree species used in IKEA products are pine, birch, spruce, beech, and oak (IKEA). Another way IKEA succeeds in being sustainable is by using a new material of particle board (an engineered wood product made from wood chips) specified for furniture use. As a result, wood raw material was reduced to 85, 816 tons and trucks for transportation lowered to 2,800 less annually. This was because of “lower cargo weight, easier handling of the merchandise for the customers and reduced costs and prices” (“Raw Materials”).
Sustainable Way of Producing Cotton
Cotton is one of IKEA’s most important raw materials and is highly water intensive to produce, which is why IKEA works to find better growing methods to move closer to more sustainable cotton cultivation and processing. IKEA teams up with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which is an organization that strives “to safeguard the natural world, helping people live more sustainably and take action against climate change” (“WWF”). Along with other local organizations in India and Pakistan, IKEA and WWF started to improve cotton farming practices in 2005 by “giving farmers access to hands-on training and support” (IKEA). WWF estimated for 2009 that farmers have reduced chemical pesticides and water consumption by 50 percent for both. The use of chemical fertilizers was also reduced by 30 percent, while the farmer’s average earnings increased by 40 percent (IKEA). Other sources such as The Better Cotton Initiative also state that “farmers reduce their use of water by an average of 50 percent, while increasing their profit margins” (“Raw Materials”).
Reduce Water Consumption
Water is a very important natural resource and IKEA works to minimize the water consumption and to improve waste water treatment. IKEA has found some techniques that would help reduce water consumption by looking at the product design to figure out the amount of water needed for manufacturing. The printing technique called Soft Pigment Printing (SPP) “reduces the after consumption by 60 percent” in comparison to other printing techniques (IKEA). Approximately 40 percent of IKEA’s printed textile products are produced with techniques that need less water (IKEA). Another example of reduced water consumption is:
the soft, densely woven fabric in IKEA 365+ RISP bed linen…made from 50 percent cotton and 50 percent Lyocell. [The] renewable cellulose-based material is derived from wood fibers from tree farms, which use [substantially] less water and [less chemical fertilizers and pesticides] than cotton farms...The chemicals needed for this product’s production process are recycled in a closed system to minimize environmental impact and waste...Not only that, the fabric is woven using 15% less cotton [and] still feels just as good as comparable bed linen” (IKEA).
Making More from Less Resources
IKEA tries an approach to make more things from less to be more sustainable and taking advantage of the resource. IKEA makes an effort to use the least amount of resources possible to make the best products possible. There are many design solutions IKEA creates to minimize material use. For example, “some tables are made out of recycled plastic [and] some rugs are made of material clippings that would otherwise be wasted” (“Building a Sustainable Supply Chain”). These ideas make IKEA’s products become more sustainable and it helps reduce the impact on the environment. A good example of saving material is that IKEA makes legs of furniture hollow and uses chipboard as filling to save on wood resources. IKEA also reduces use of cotton by blending cotton with other materials (IKEA). IKEA’s goal is to minimize the amount of waste generated in the manufacturing process. All IKEA stores and distribution centers recycle large quantities of material, which helps save resources and money. The “Waste Management Manual” for the IKEA, established in 1999, required all stores to sort at least the five most common waste items. Some waste and recycled material that are collected include cardboard, paper, plastic, wood, metal and glass. Almost 75 percent of the sorted waste in the store and more than 80 percent are recycled or used for energy production (IKEA).
Utilizing the Material Waste
IKEA specifies to its producers during manufacturing that waste should be avoided as much as possible. They try to encourage producers to take the waste and try to use it to manufacture other products (IKEA). IKEA has a code of conduct called the IKEA Way of Purchasing Home Furnishing Products, abbreviated as IWAY, that ensures “the product in use should not have a harmful effect upon consumers or their environment” (“Building a Sustainable Supply Chain”). In other words, the products should be energy efficient, be allergy free, and have recyclable materials at the end of the life cycle. The IWAY code identifies IKEA’s minimum requirements as “manufacturers or suppliers add value to products” The code expects suppliers to: “follow national and international laws, not use child labour, not use woods and glues from non-sustainable forests, reduce their waste and emissions, contribute to recycling, follow health and safety requirements, care for the environment, [and] take care of their employees” (“Building a Sustainable Supply Chain”). The “LACK side table is one of the first IKEA products made from strong and rigid wood-based frames filled with recycled, honeycombed paper. LACK uses less raw material than particleboard, is more lightweight and thus easier to handle both in [their] transport chain and for [their] customers” (IKEA). Just like LACK:
BESTÅ has a honeycombed paper filling, but production is even more efficient. BESTÅ is made from board-onstripes (BoS), a strong and light material that minimizes the use of resources. [The] long strips of particleboard or MDF are laid out on large fiberboard sheets, the paper filling is [then] placed between the strips and then topped with another thin layer of fiberboard. The construction is cut to the product’s final shape and dimensions before being lacquered or veneered (IKEA).
Another creative idea that IKEA does to be more sustainable is by using recycled old plastic bottles to create other smart and stylish products. The “TEPPAS drawer unit is made from 100 percent recycled PET plastic. It is stackable and can be combined with a handy trolley for mobility – perfect for any home office or children’s room” (IKEA).
IKEA hates waste, which is why they “take every opportunity to turn spill from production into raw material for other products.” For example, the LUSY BLOM cushion makes good use of the potentially wasted material. It is filled with leftovers from IKEA quilt production and the content is safe and healthy (IKEA). Similar to the cushion, “versatile NÄSUM baskets are made from what most people would consider waste: remnants from banana trees after the harvest.” After a banana tree has produced its golden fruit, the trunk slowly dies. Instead of discarding it, the trunk is cut into strips and left out to be sun-dried. When the material is woven, NÄSUM is made to be durable with water-based lacquer (IKEA).
Transportation of Products
IKEA furniture uses a flat pack system to transport their goods because they are cheap to transport. The furniture stays in a flat pack for the customers to later build, which keeps the product prices lower (VanGilder). IKEA patented Loading Ledges are a good alternative to traditional wooden pallets because they can expand and contract to fit the size of the load. They are made from polypropylene plastic can be recycled into making new ledges. The shape and size are perfect for containers and forklifts. The low weight wedges allow two tons of more goods to be loaded (IKEA).
Conclusion of Full Life Cycle
IKEA’s focus on sustainable design truly evaluates the entire life cycle of its raw materials. They start by getting the material from sustainable sources to using fewer chemicals in the production process. IKEA does a good job on waste reduction and on finding alternative ways to incorporate leftover material to use for the producing other IKEA products to sell. Not only does IKEA make material use more sustainable, they also are doing well in saving energy use. IKEA mostly invests in using renewable energy such as wind and solar power. They try to reduce energy consumption and reduce CO2 emissions and head towards zero waste to landfill. However, the waste and emissions from plastic and cardboard are high in carbon that produces into the atmosphere because of the transportation from factories to warehouses. The production process of plastics, clear and Styrofoam type was considered to be unsustainable, which concluded that do-it-yourself furniture is less sustainable in comparison to already-made furniture. This is because it requires extra packaging, tools, and other materials for the customer to put the furniture together. The modern trend of aiming towards more sustainable use of the environment has made IKEA work in analyzing and controlling the full life cycle of their products in a detailed and organized manner. IKEA continues to strive harder to being more environmentally friendly and at the same time making durable products in the most sustainable fashion as possible, but IKEA should focus on how to reduce their waste and emissions from the do-it-yourself material kit in order to succeed in their sustainability plan.
Successes and Failures
The IKEA topic was a really hard thing to research and I did not find enough information about the different tools IKEA used. Most of my sources on this topic were on IKEA’s sustainability report. There was a lot of information on their main raw materials because their focus was moving to a more sustainable direction. Originally, we wanted to research about IKEA’s process of building the furniture, but I found more information on its sustainable design because it is their main focus now. I did find information of customers critiquing the build-it-yourself style and how the manuals were difficult to understand. From my experience of putting together IKEA furniture, I found that the manuals did a good job of presenting visual images and directions. However, it can be difficult for someone who is unfamiliar with it. For the future, I predict that IKEA will show videos of how the put the furniture together to make it easier for their customers to have a visual and audio manual to follow. It was helpful to find that IKEA followed an “e-Wheel” that was directly related to this assignment. It helped me understand the process better and relating it to how IKEA specifically follow the process.
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IKEA’s furniture life cycle—Embodied Energy.
Standing high in blue and yellow colors, Ikea is is a privately held, Swedish company that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, appliances, and home accessories. Appealing to many with their low prices and DIY style furniture, IKEA is the world's largest furniture retailer—with 287 stores in more than 38 countries.1 A company with such enormous quantities of production should have sustainability as a key priority. And according to all of their reports, they do. “Sustainability has always been important to us” (2), “Sustainability is an IKEA priority” (3). These phrases and many of the like appear all over their website, catalogues, and store. Their sustainability practices are something they really take pride on. But how resourceful are these practices? Clearly any company of that size would claim to be that “environmentally friendly” in order to appeal to the potential and recurrent customers. But just how true are their sustainability reports? Oddly enough, it was difficult to find information on their practices from sources other than their own. This could make the researcher, like me, dubious about the validity of their practices. Although, there is a possibility that no other source feels the need to repudiate because all of the facts and numbers they present are accurate. In order to study this more thoroughly, I’ll be presenting and analyzing IKEA’s sustainability reports—with an emphasis in energy consumption—for the reader to create its own conclusion.
In 2012, IKEA agreed on a new sustainability strategy called “People & Planet Positive”, setting new goals for them to meet by 20204. This plan focuses on three major areas:
- To inspire and enable millions of customers to live a sustainable life at home
- To strive for resource and energy independence, and
- To take lead in creating a better life for people and communities.
First off—sustainability in the home. Ikea pledges that they will take the lead in creating and selling affordable products and solutions to help the customer save money. All of this while using less energy and water, and reducing waste (5). They give the example of their ISANDE fridge/freezer, with “A++ rating for energy efficiency.” Claiming that their LED lighting helps
millions of people to save money on their energy bills because the bulbs use 85% less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs (6). The second point, resource and energy independence, states they’ll design products that are more sustainable—including more recycled material and using resources within the limits of the planet (7). They say they intend to produce more renewable energy than they consume, and that they have allocated €1.5 billion ($2.4 billion) for investment in renewables until 2015 (8). They also state that in 2012 they produced renewable energy equivalent to 34% of their total consumption. And that by adding the briquettes and pellets they make from waste wood and sell to others, that figure is 51% (9). By the end of the year, they had installed more than 250,000 solar panels on IKEA stores and buildings across the world, and they have allegedly invested in 126 wind turbines in six countries (10).
To support their claim, they give the example of the popular lamp, TEXTUR. IKEA technician Harish Jakhar was challenged to make this lamp even more affordable and sustainable. He set about his task in a typical “IKEA way”: seeking simplicity, sustainability and a low price (11). First he made the lamp easier to assemble by eliminating 24 of the 33 components, almost halving the lamp’s weight. Then Harish reduced the packaging weight by 28% and – with less volume – managed to fit 128 lamps on a pallet (there were only 80 before). Finally, he changed the fabric covering and used cotton blended with viscose (which comes from wood) (12). The new lamp, called VIDJA, went on sale in 2012 at a 34% reduction on the original low price (13). Now, after reading through many examples of the like, one starts to wonder about the durability and resistance of the product. Just how strong are products created solely from remains and recycled materials? By removing weight off the product you also weaken it. And while using less material is good for the environment, if it only lasts a year the costumer is forced to buy a new lamp which implies more energy and more materials. Sadly, I was not able to find any reports on the durability of IKEA products, which only enforces my dubious views on IKEA. But going back to their “People and Planet Positive” plan, their third and last point—taking a lead in creating a better life for people and communities.
They argue that they will continue “being a good neighbor” by “supporting human rights and acting in the best interest of children everywhere” (14). They claim they do this mainly through their Supplier Code of Conduct, called IWAY (15). Around 80 IKEA auditors, as well as independent auditors, check that suppliers meet their high standards. In total, thousands of audits are conducted every year (16). The purpose of IWAY is to safeguard good working conditions and to minimize environmental effects within the supply chain (17). They partner with WWF, UNICEF, UNDP and Save the Children, and also work towards responsible forestry, cotton grown in a more sustainable way and improving the lives of many of the poorest children in the world (18).
While these all seem to be true-hearted propositions, that’s just what they are—propositions. These are they’re plans for the future, but just how sustainable have they been until now?
In their 2012 sustainability report, under their “Resource and energy independence” sub heading, they stated that they’re cutting costs and protecting resources by making more from less.19 That is, by turning waste into resources and switching to renewable energy. They state that by using resources more sustainably, they can be part of global efforts to protect the environment and tackle climate change.20 They say that already, 91% of materials used in their products are renewable, recyclable or recycled. Their goal is for all main materials to be renewable, recyclable or recycled by 2015.21 They work with WWF and the Better Cotton Initiative to help make cotton farming more sustainable.22 They are investing €1.5 billion in renewable energy, focusing on wind and solar. This will allegedly take them closer to their target to produce as much renewable energy as the energy consumed in IKEA Group stores and buildings by 2020.23 In 2012 they produced renewable energy equivalent to 34% of their total energy consumption. At the end of the year, they had 250,000 solar panels on their buildings and 83 wind turbines in operation (24).
“Not being wasteful and making more from less goes back to our roots” (25). Their report reads. “We want to economize with resources and this influences us every day” (26). It continues. They allegedly have decided to become resource and energy independent—which means they can continue to create the products our customers want at a low price (27). They are becoming more energy efficient and generating their own renewable energy. And they are working with their suppliers to inspire them to do the same (28). They argue that thanks to the size of their business and their longstanding commitments, they can have a significant impact—like influencing behaviors in whole markets in areas such as energy-efficient lighting (29). They aim to drive environmental innovation and demonstrate a better way to do business through their operations. They claim they are continuously improving the energy efficiency of their buildings; using renewable energy; minimizing waste and water use; and reducing their transportation emissions (30). They state that using resources within the limits of the planet and protecting the environment is also good for business as it reduces their costs (31).
To summarize a year, according to their report, 2012 looked something like this:
• They produced renewable energy equivalent to a third of their total energy consumption.
• They improved energy efficiency by 3% in their stores, compared with 2011.
• They reduced CO2 emissions from IKEA buildings by 17% from 2011.
• They reduced CO2 emissions by 7.3% per cubic meter of products shipped, exceeding their 4% goal.
• They held 40% more co-worker meetings by phone and web, saving energy and costs of traveling to meetings on location.
• They generated 6% more waste than in 2011 but waste recycling rates increased at stores.
• They expect a minimum of 90% of the waste from their stores and other IKEA operations will be sorted for recycling by the end of 2015 (32).
How true these statements may be is not a reputable matter, given that there is no contradictive information out there. The only available information is more and more statistics and examples coming from their website. But as any amateur marketing employer may know, using an ethos and logos style of writing—authoritarian and statistical/factual style —usually leads the reader to believe what they are being told. To this, continuing with IKEA’s report, they claim that operating IKEA buildings and employee commuting contribute by far the smallest part (2.5%) of their total carbon footprint. Most emissions come from raw material extraction, manufacturing and distribution (33). In 2012, their emissions from IKEA buildings decreased by 17% from 859,616 tons to 714,126 tons compared with 2011. Much of this reduction was due to stores and distribution centers in Germany switching to a renewable energy tariff (34). They reduced CO2 across all parts of their business by buying more renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Carbon intensity, measured as CO2 emissions per cubic meter of products sold, decreased by 22% to 27 kg of CO2 /m3 in 2012. This was due to a reduction in CO2 emissions from IKEA buildings, and increased sales (35).
They also claim that by redesigning some aspects of the IKEA stores, they will increase the sustainability of their company (36). So far, they have introduced more sustainable lighting solutions (including LED and natural daylight). They have upgraded ventilation systems so they only operate when needed. They have installed and upgraded building insulation and window glazing. And they are increasing the technical skills and awareness of co-workers who operate buildings and machines to save as much energy as possible (37).
With the design of IKEA stores in mind, In 2010 the NREL teamed up with IKEA to showcase and study the advantages of a geothermal heating and cooling system (38). The system comprised of 130 holes dug 500 feet deep where the temperature remains about 55° year-round, it uses less energy and money when it comes to keeping the store at a comfortable temperature. With a combination of deep holes and a maze of hoses below the store's parking garage, the system runs liquid in a loop down to the Earth's 55° temperature and brings it back up to help keep things cool in the summer and warm in the winter. When warm surface air is passed over the cool pipes, the air gets cooler. When the air is cooler than the liquid, it is warmed as it passes over the pipes (39). An efficient idea, however, it was only installed in a few stores and no talk of the project has appeared in an article since 2010.
The sustainability of the stores’ design is a key priority for the company, but what seems to be of bigger importance (given that they bring it up after every couple sentences) is the use of renewable energy not only in the stores but at production and transport level. They state that they “…want to be a leader in the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency” (40). They even have a special project called IKEA Goes Renewable (41). This primarily focuses on investing in their own projects to generate renewable energy from solar, wind and biomass (42). They generate some of their own renewable energy, and buy some from the grid. More than 250,000 solar panels have been installed on IKEA stores and buildings across the world, and IKEA has invested in, and is committed to own and operate, 126 wind turbines in six countries (43). They also purchased 1,073 GWh of renewable electricity from the grid. They have been installing photovoltaic (PV) panels on stores and distribution centers, bringing the total number of PV installations to 75. On average, solar panels can supply between 10% and 15% of the electricity needs of a typical store and can meet up to 100% of electricity needs at distribution centers (44). The share of renewable energy powering IKEA buildings increased to 55% in 2012 from 51% in 2011. And their solar and wind installations provided 319 gigawatt hours of electricity to IKEA buildings, more than twice the amount generated in 2011 (45).
Their transport sustainability also seems to excel. They state that around 11% of the IKEA total carbon footprint (from raw materials to product end-of-life) is associated with energy used for transport of products and people (coworkers and customers) (46). To help reduce CO2 from transport they, among other things, offer customers a home delivery service and try to optimize the use of equipment so that more products can fit into each load, and fewer shipments are needed (47). They have also been increasing the number of routes which combine rail, sea and road transport and can reduce emissions from road transport. They co-operate with transport suppliers to increase the use of modern, fuel-efficient vehicles, and to explore the use of more sustainable fuels. And they deliver 56% of products directly from suppliers to stores, rather than via distribution centers, reducing the total distance products are transported (48). In 2012, the volume of products per shipment increased by 2.5% compared with 2011 (49). A higher filling rate means less space is wasted in each shipment. Their filling rate increased to 65% (per truck) and their goal is to achieve 70% by 2013 for inbound transport (transport from suppliers to distribution centers) (50). By using bigger trucks and containers and switching from wooden to paper pallets or loading ledges they have reduced the footprint of transporting IKEA products by 75,000 tons of CO2 per year – a 6% saving (51).
Their stores, their production and their transport are all kept in mind when it comes to being sustainable. From all the information I was able to find, it seems that IKEA continues to be a role model for all other furniture stores. With their easy to assemble (and apparently durable) furniture, thousands of costumers each day visit their local or online store to purchase some of their favorite styles. With an astounding €2.5 billion profit per year, IKEA continues to develop their sustainability practices in hopes of being completely energy independent in the next few years (52). Keeping renewable energy as a top priority, they manage to keep low prices on their “green-friendly” products. However, since no complaints were found about the IKEA company, one cannot but wonder if all they claim is true, or if maybe with that kind of profit they’ve managed to buy the opinions of those who know better. For now, I believe it’s safe to assume that IKEA is doing an exceptional job in creating an impact—for the better—in our environment.
Bibliography and Endnotes
1Ohlsson, Michael. "Welcome Inside: IKEA Group Yearly Summary FY12." IKEA. N.p., 01 Sept. 2012. Web. <http://www.ikea.com/ms/sv_SE/pdf/yearly_summary/ys_welcome_inside_2012.pdf> , 5
2 "About IKEA." Facts & Figures. IKEA. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. <http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/about_ikea/facts_and_figures/facts_figures.html>
4-10 Ohlsson, 26
11-13 Ohlsson, 27
14-16 Ohlsson, 28
17-18 Ohlsson, 29
19 Howard, Steve. "IKEA Group Sustainability Report FY12." IKEA. N.p., 01 Sept. 2012. Web. <http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/pdf/sustainability_report/sustainability_report_2012.pdf>. 15
20 Howard, 24
21-24 Howard, 39
25-26 Howard, 47
27-29 Howard, 48
30-31 Howard, 50
32 Howard, 49
33-35 Howard, 48
36-37 Howard, 50
38-39 "IKEA Geothermal System Could Be Model for Others." NREL.gov. 02 Sept. 2010. Web. <http://www.nrel.gov/geothermal/news/2010/882.html>.
40-43 Howard, 51
44-45 Howard, 52
46-48 Howard, 53
49-51 "About IKEA." Energy & Resources. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. <http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/about_ikea/people_and_planet/energy-and-resource.html>.
“The Trouble with Doing it Yourself”
Furniture Design: IKEA Furniture Lifecycle - Waste and Emissions
March 20, 2013
Good design does not always have to be the most expensive, but it should be the most sustainable. This is true in regards to all areas of design, the full life-cycle of any product should be completely sustainable and of course should be at a reasonable cost throughout production, in sales, and through to the product’s end-of-life. Within the industry of furniture design, there are companies that manufacture the products, assemble them, distribute them to the seller, then deliver them to the customer. And then there are companies that manufacture the products, distribute all the pieces to the seller, then the customer purchases them at that location and assembles the product on their own. These types of companies are often referred to as “DIY”, or “do-it-yourself”, companies. IKEA is one of the most famous world-wide furniture companies that prides themselves on simple, durable, and sustainable design and it is often DIY type furniture (Ohlsson, IKEA).
IKEA is based in Sweden and was founded in 1934 by Ingvar Kamprad. The main goal of IKEA is to design the most sustainable, quality furniture for the lowest price. One way that they achieve that goal is by encouraging their customers to continuously use the lowest amount of energy and water as they possibly can. To assist that incentive, IKEA manufactures a refrigerator/freezer that has an outstanding grading of A++ because of its power-saving abilities. They also put forth energy saving light bulbs which use 85% less electricity than the average bulb, saving customers on their energy bills (Ohlsson).
Another way that IKEA makes their business and products more sustainable is by using products and materials within the limits of our earth. They use recycled material and wood products that come from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. IKEA also has installed more than 250,000 solar panels on their facilities and implemented 126 wind turbines on their land across the globe (Ohlsson).
IKEA minimizes waste in their processing of materials. For instance, the Lusy Bloom cushion is filled with fibers left over from making the IKEA quilt production. They are constantly finding new and innovative ways to utilize every resource available, and are able to recognize when pieces need to be edited down as opposed to added to. The designers of IKEA create their chairs with hallow legs to save on material but still maintain their durability and quality. The creator of the TEXTUR lamp, one of IKEA’s top selling and most recognizable lamps, Harish Jakhar redesigned the item by taking away more than half of it’s parts, cutting its weight in half. This allowed the company to place 128 of the lamps on a pallet instead of 80, increasing efficiency and ultimately decreasing the cost for customers (Ohlsson).
Although IKEA could possibly be attributed to be the most sustainable furniture company in the world, no well-known company has reached the point of being 100% sustainable thus far. There will always be areas that need to be improved upon, altered, and re-designed. The goal is to combine all of the sustainable systems within a company to create a whole that is the very best it can be. In this case, IKEA is a world-wide company so there will always be the issue of travel and transporting goods which causes a huge amount of waste and emissions (Ohlsson). Particularly in IKEA, the system of DIY carries the biggest burden of waste and emissions.
The difference between DIY and mainly all other furniture companies is that within DIY the customer is getting more products that have a shorter lifetime. When a customer purchases an item from IKEA they receive the pieces to that item, along with packaging, tools such as allen wrenches, nuts, bolts and screws, multiple clear plastic bags, instruction manuals, and padding for the item (IKEA). When a customer purchases in item from a different type of furniture company, the item is often delivered to their house with no packaging, less padding, and are given no tools or manuals. It may seem as though a simple plastic bag, or a few pieces of packaging would not have a large impact on our land and air, but in reality when those items are sold in large quantities world-wide, the total mass adds up quickly (Lockheed Martin).
Each individual item that goes into a DIY kit from IKEA is manufactured, delivered, and sold to the IKEA manufacturer. The life-cycle of those items starts long before they each reach IKEA, and therefore, so does the waste and emissions of those products. The measurement of toxic emissions will not ever be completely accurate because the companies that are setting them off are not necessarily proud of the damages that they cause to our environment. In terms of accuracy, all we can do is estimate and use our best judgement (Plastics).
According to TLC Discovery company, in California there are 66 million tons of garbage put into land fills each year, and about 22 million tons consists of packaging materials (Heimbuch). In an IKEA DIY kit, one of the main packaging materials is of course plastic. There are five main types of plastics used in the United States including HDPE, LDPE, LLDPE, PET, and PP. The type that is most likely used in an IKEA DIY kit is HDPE or high-density polyethylene. In the kits there are mini plastic bags for nearly every part as well as plastic bubble wrap and various other plastic packaging. Manufacturing plastic begins with the production of plastic resin which sets off toxic gasses into the air. Later the plastic is transported from its manufacturer to its retail facility, emitting carbon gases from the burning of fuel. Next, in this case of IKEA products, the customer emits carbon waste by traveling to the retail store where they purchase the item, complete with all of it’s plastic, and later emit more carbon when they take the item back home with them. The plastic’s use is for one function only. Once it has been ripped into, it is either thrown away or recycled. If it is thrown away, the plastic is often combusted, emitting toxic gases, and the ash from that combustion is transported to landfill, which again emits carbon from fuel. The plastic also might simply be transported straight to landfill in it’s complete form. If the plastic is recycled, it is transported to a recycling facility where it is sorted and processed. Later, it is transported again to a recycled plastics manufacturing facility, and finally transported to be made back into plastic resin, where the cycle starts all over (Plastic).
People assume that if plastic is recycled then the system is sustainable. However, because the plastic is transported so many times, the amount of toxic gases emitted, carbon or otherwise, is at an unbelievable amount. Furthermore, our society is so completely obsessed with plastic that nearly everything contains some of it which allows the cycle to be repeated in uncountable amounts. Therefore, the lifecycle of plastic is completely unsustainable if, on the off-chance, it is recycled. The un-recycled plastic emissions are even more damaging because the ash from the combustion as well as the solid form continuously pollutes our earth and atmosphere (Plastic).
Another item often included as a part of the packaging of a DIY product kit is Styrofoam. Styrofoam is the brand name for the plastic material that is made of polystyrene. Polystyrene is a plastic that can be made almost entirely out of air, making it incredibly light weight and perfect for packaging goods because of its high ability to absorb shock. Polystyrene can also be made into a material that is flat and sheet-like allowing it to wrap the goods instead of house them in a secure position. In rigid form, this cellular plastic is made originally from crude oil. It is then given additive chemicals, heated up to be moldable, cooled down, and later expanded to ultimately have its incredibly light mass. This process does not require high transportation from manufacturer to manufacturer. Once it is made in its factory, it is ready to be sold to the retailer. Polystyrene is molded to house particular products made by companies such as IKEA, and because the products are unique in shape, once the polystyrene is purchased with the item by the customer, there is no use for it whatsoever. The customer then typically throws it away, the problem being that many do no know that polystyrene or Styrofoam is indeed plastic and it can be recycled completely. Therefore, much of this product often ends up in landfills. If this were not so, the making of this material would be rather sustainable because there is a minimal amount of toxic emissions given off from the factories themselves and from transporting the goods (Plastic, EPS).
Cardboard is one of the world’s most-used products and of course is used in all IKEA DIY furniture kits as well. Not only is cardboard used inside as part of the materials given to the customer but also as the kit, or box, itself. According to Livestrong, approximately 90 percent of all goods are transported in cardboard, and this case is no exception. Cardboard is manufactured by making wood pulp from wood fibers and mixing that pulp with water and other substances. The combined material is compressed and eventually made into the fixed material of cardboard. The production of cardboard releases toxic gases to be let into the atmosphere as well as creates toxic by-products (Deiterich).
After the cardboard is made it can be sent to be glazed and printed on, then later transported to the IKEA manufacturer to be used as transporting material. After purchased by the customer, often the cardboard is quickly discarded, as is the rest of the packaging material. If it is not recycled, it is transported to a landfill where it can not naturally decompose because it is completely compacted with other waste products and materials. Instead, it produces methane gases that are incredibly damaging to the atmosphere. These gases emitted are said to be even more harmful to the ozone layer than carbon emissions produced by motor vehicles (Deiterich).If these cardboard pieces are in fact recycled by the customer, they are transported to a recycling facility, like that in the plastic lifecycle. It is sorted and transported again where it can be broken down (Plastics).
Within waste and emissions of all of the products used in a DIY IKEA kit, it is not clear where each material is made and shipped from. It is also unclear how it is shipped. One can assume products are shipped either by way of water or air although one is more toxic than the other and not knowing disallows someone to factor that into the lifecycle process. In learning about waste and emissions in lifecycle processes, I wanted to know most about exactly what toxic substances are emitted in the earliest production of plastics and cardboard. However, no factory or company gives that information to the public because the toxic levels of the substances are assumably at extreme heights and in large quantities.
Another part of this system that is unclear is exactly what materials go into a DIY kit, meaning how many clear plastic bags, how many pieces of Styrofoam, and how many extra pieces of cardboard. Some have said that finding this information is readily available on the IKEA website; however, after relentlessly researching I was unable to find it. It would’ve also been helpful to know if the cardboard is printed on or if it remains clean and natural. This would be relevant information because if it is printed on, one could assume that would make the material weaker when it is recycled or it would add an extra destination during transportation to the recycling facilities.
Lastly, it was most difficult to find information from our own Shields Library or from any other scholarly source available. There is indeed sources on air pollution other general topics in relation; however, most sources on the issue of waste and emissions from the lifecycles of plastics and cardboard were most available from the internet in general.
Despite the failure in finding these pieces of information and sources, the facts remain that packaging material needs to be redesigned so that it is a more sustainable, closed loop system. Recycling is a step in that direction but the waste and emissions of that process is still not sustainable. Granted carbon emissions are less destructive to the ozone layer than methane gases emitted from landfills, neither type of toxic substance should be produced (Deiterich).
The only way to solve the issue of emission waste in DIY products is to literally do it yourself instead of being handed a series of items to put together. One could go to the local hardware store and purchase wood, a few screws and nuts, and possibly a small can of paint to assemble their own, original, piece of furniture that is completely sustainable. There is no packaging material, the smallest amount of carbon emitted from a couple miles worth of fuel, and when the piece of furniture has reached its end of life it can be disassembled and the wood can be easily applied towards other uses.
I know this solution is a stretch and most people would rather buy their furniture, but at the very minimum we should think about how much we consume. IKEA is making great strides in making the industry more sustainable, but they cannot do it alone. It is up to all of us to make a change in our habits and practices so that our earth and atmosphere are as clean as they can be.
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