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Do Ikea’s Products Reflect the True Price?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Wednesday July 22nd, 2009 | 7 Comments

250px-Ikea_multistory_Leeds.jpgIkea’s slogan is “low prices but not at any price.” Ikea is known for its cheap furniture that customers have to put together at home. A recent article in The Atlantic asked (about Ikea), “Can we afford to keep shopping at places where an item’s price reflects only a fraction of its societal costs?” One of the biggest societal costs is environmental. As Boston University professor Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, puts it, Ikea relies “on consumers to carry huge costs for the company.”
Ikea is the third-largest purchaser of wood in the world, behind Home Depot and Lowe’s. Ikea gets most of its wood from Russia and China. In 2007, a senior Ikea staff member told the Washington Post that only 30 percent of the wood it purchases is from China. The same year the Post ran an expose on illegal timber that quoted a Chinese factory sales manager, who said, “Ikea will provide some guidance, such as a list of endangered species we can’t use, but they never send people to supervise the purchasing. Basically, they just let us pick what wood we want.”


Ikea’s forestry manager, Sofie Beckham told the Washington Post, “Falsification of documents is rampant. There’s always somebody who wants to break the rules.” Hiring more inspectors would increase the prices of Ikea’s products.
“It’s about cost,” Ikea’s global manager for social and environmental affairs, Thomas Bergmark said. “It would take enormous resources if we trace back each and every wood supply chain. We can never guarantee that each and every log is from the right source.”
According to Inhabitat.com, Ikea’s long-term goal is to source wood from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), but only a small amount of Ikea’s suppliers are FSC-certified. However, 94 percent of its suppliers currently meet Ikea’s minimum requirements.
“IKEA is the least sustainable retailer on the planet,” declared Massachusetts environmental activist, Wig Zamore who is working with Ikea. Ikea’s products are not built to last, as anyone who has purchased a product from one of its stores knows. The products last a few years, and then wind up in a landfill. The products are virtually unrecycleable. A May blog post for Mother Jones made the following observation:

When IKEA says its wood furniture is made from a ‘renewable material,’ it reinforces the idea that disposable is okay.

Ikea stores are built in suburbs that are far from the center of large cities. According to the Atlantic article, the average Ikea customer drives a 50 mile round trip. This means that Ikea customers, in terms of gas, are paying more than just the sticker price for the company’s products. Coupled with the environmental costs of Ikea’s products, the true cost to society is much higher than Ikea wants consumers to realize.


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  • http://www.sincerelysustainable.com The Author

    Not to be too ‘in defense’ of IKEA, given it’s known shortcomings, but the claim that all of IKEA’s products end up in a landfill after a few years is silly. Yes, it’s not the most rugged stuff, but it can last as long as you want it to. We have more than several IKEA pieces that are well over 10 years old.
    I don’t know what that guy does to his furniture, but IKEA’s stuff for the most part holds up just fine as long as you take care of it.

  • mcoc

    I concur with the first comment. It’s not the finest stuff in all the land but it works and is stylish. I would add that I really hope Ikea addresses–and, if founded, fixes–the claims of unsustainable practices made in Shell’s book. I think Ikea should also start to adopt a cradle to cradle business practice and allow customers to bring back old products to be renewed/recycled. I even think some consumers would pay a premium for that.

  • http://www.gina-mariecheeseman.com Gina-Marie Cheeseman

    Ikea products are not made from quality wood. They may last over 10 years, but I have a bookcase my great-uncle made. It is over 80 years old.

  • http://www.myspace.com/nicholashowardmusic Nicholas Howard

    Thank you Gina!
    I think Mcoc made a great statement in saying what Ikea could do to help offset their large footprint but they probably won’t.. There needs to be legislature in place that puts companies out of business that use unsustainable and unfair trade practices. The restaurants have the health department giving out rating stickers in LA and closing down places in NYC. Why can’t that work for huge companies?
    Go watch the video on http:..www.storyofstuff.com if you haven’t already… It’s 20 minutes that will learn you something..
    Thanks for the post!

  • Geoff

    Thank you for this post. I completely agree that the practices of large discount retailers like IKEA and Walmart are unsustainable and pass along the costs to consumers.

    I agree with the 3rd & 4th posters and disagree with the first 2. I have two pieces of IKEA furniture that are currently broken inside of 5 years – a bed and a dresser. Some of the things my parents had in our home growing up lasted for generations.

    I’d like to see more companies operate like Patagonia. While it may be more expensive to buy Patagonia clothes I know that I can use them longer and if something happens I can take them to the store and Patagonia will replace the item or fix it for free. Even if it is 10 years old.

    This marketing piece for IKEA – while funny – shows the sad but true nature of our consumer culture.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFztDZRtplw

    They want you to throw out the perfectly functional lamp, so you can buy a new one and their business can grow. We need to get over business models that rely on manufacturing cheap, disposable, products.

  • Robert

    Ten years is not a long life. Even twenty is nothing to brag about. Traditional furniture lasted for generations and could be repaired and re-furbished. Of course, we don't really want anything that lasts that long now, because we might get stuck with something that's “out of fashion”. Do companies such as Ikea cause this attitude, or are they created by it? Fashion is the least environmentally friendly attitude of them all.

  • Robert

    Ten years is not a long life. Even twenty is nothing to brag about. Traditional furniture lasted for generations and could be repaired and re-furbished. Of course, we don't really want anything that lasts that long now, because we might get stuck with something that's “out of fashion”. Do companies such as Ikea cause this attitude, or are they created by it? Fashion is the least environmentally friendly attitude of them all.