Ikea’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.