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Roya Sabri headshot

Ikea Takes a Step Toward Circularity with Buyback Program

By Roya Sabri

Ikea will begin a large-scale furniture buyback program on Black Friday, Nov. 27. The launch of this program marks the first time the store, long known for affordable modern home décor and do-it-yourself furniture assembly, will scale the policy across 27 countries.

Items not resold will be recycled or donated to local community projects, the company said.

“By making sustainable living more simple and accessible, Ikea hopes that the initiative will help its customers take a stand against excessive consumption this Black Friday and in the years to come,” the global retail giant said in a widely distributed news release.

Selling secondhand is one step toward a circular economy

Countries such as Britain, Germany, Australia, Canada and Japan will be part of the project Ikea is calling “Buy Back.” The United States will not initially participate, though U.S. stores may join in the future, a spokeswoman said. Where available, customers can receive up to 50 percent of an item’s original price in the form of a store voucher.

This initiative falls into Ikea’s 2030 sustainability goals. Last year, the company committed to becoming 100 percent circular by 2030. The plan is for all products to be designed with the potential to be reused, refurbished or recycled, with an overall aim to reduce waste. Thus far, Ikea has conducted a materials investigation, and some products already adhere to circular guidelines. A baby cot, for example, transforms into a toddler bed. But company leadership expects customers to start seeing marked improvements in stores over the next few years.

Making strides toward a circular economy during a pandemic is admirable, though necessary. But it’s not despite the pandemic that Ikea has found progress; in some ways, the company may have expedited its transformation because of this year’s global crises.

“[Circularity is] a big shift that I would say has become even more important in terms of the pandemic," Ikea’s head of circular design, Malin Nordin, told Dezeen this summer. "We want to accelerate the shift."

"It has become even more important and relevant to take care of what you already have and prolong the life of products that you already have," she continued.

Paired with the nearly global buyback program, Ikea will open its first second-hand store later this year, located in Sweden.

Bottom-line reasons for reducing waste

Why would Ikea go through the effort of redesigning products and buying back furniture to find its niche in the circular economy? According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) a few of the benefits to this shift include saving on materials costs by reusing and recycling, creating jobs, finding new profit opportunities and developing stronger relationships with customers — about half of which are even willing to pay higher prices for environmentally friendly options, a 2020 study by ING Bank found.

Improved supply chain security is another advantage for companies that embrace a circular business model, EMF notes. Current supply chains have been disrupted by the half-year long pandemic and natural disasters speckling the globe. By reusing and recycling, companies can open themselves to a more decentralized and localized supply system.

Other industries are also chasing circularity and reaping its benefits. In fashion, secondhand selling was in the news earlier this year. Aware of consumer demand for more environmentally and socially friendly options, high-end department store Nordstrom began selling second hand clothing and accessories at its New York flagship store and online in January.

“Whether you’re shopping at Target or Walmart or Nordstrom or Macy’s, customers are saying we’d love to see secondhand products here because we’re buying it anyway,” Anthony Marino, president of online consignment and thrift store ThredUp, told the Washington Post. “Retailers are realizing that the person who buys secondhand clothing is not somebody else’s customer — it’s their customer.”

Similarly, Ikea can rely on planet and climate-conscious customers to sustain and support a shift in modus operandi — a shift that ensures greater resiliency and stability for stores as future global challenges inevitably crop up.

Image credit: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Roya Sabri headshot

Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn

Read more stories by Roya Sabri