IKEA goes full circle as it leads the way on sustainability
As it announces the launch of its new Circular Hubs, IKEA UK aims to prove that climate initiatives can be as good for business as they are for the planet.
For IKEA, “building back better” doesn’t just mean restarting the system; it means resetting it. As the furniture giant contemplates the role it has to play in working towards a greener future, it’s undergoing a radical evolution as part of its ambition to become climate-positive by 2030.
The aim is to go from a traditional linear model to a fully circular one, in which products’ life cycles are extended, resources are reused and little to no waste is produced along the way.
Taking the next major step on this journey, the company has just announced the launch of Circular Hubs in stores across the UK. By transforming the Bargain Corner or (“As-is”) areas into innovative spaces dedicated to extending the life of their products, it hopes to both inspire and enable its customers to live more sustainably.
The Bargain Corner items aren’t going anywhere; in fact, true to IKEA’s pledge of “creating a better everyday life for the many people”, each Circular Hub will sell an even wider range of recovered and second-hand products.
By repacking products recovered through customer returns or room set displays that would otherwise go to waste, IKEA can prolong the life of its products and provide customers with items at a reduced price. Meanwhile, customers can also browse returned, ex-display or slightly damaged products being sold at a discount online through the company’s recently launched Gumtree collaboration, which makes giving IKEA’s products a second chance even easier and more accessible.
The business will source these second-hand items through a number of circular initiatives, including the new “Buy back” service, which launches in-store on May 5 and invites customers to sell IKEA products they no longer need back to the company, incentivising them to participate in the company’s circular model.
The Hubs will also feature dedicated Learn & Share areas, where IKEA co-workers will interact with visitors to exchange knowledge about living in a more sustainable way. This could include teaching customers how to repair and update old furniture in order to empower them to extend the life of the items they already own, or facilitating peer-to-peer activities to encourage knowledge-sharing about sustainability.
The announcement has drawn support from across politics, with Andrew Selous MP, the Conservative Environment Network’s Green Homes Champion, heaping praise on what he called a “great initiative”.
“We throw far too much away that could be reused and I know the public will welcome the opportunity to buy second-hand products at affordable prices, as well as advice on repairing and recovering furniture,” he added.
Shadow Minister for Energy and the Green New Deal Alan Whitehead hopes IKEA will serve as a “beacon” for other businesses, adding: “It sits with the more central issue of companies and organisations taking responsibility not just for the sale of their own products, but for the whole life of their products.”
“Consumers are certainly very substantially reappraising their own consumption patterns, but it can be hard for them to take action, so having a path laid down to enable consumers to act on their better instincts is an important part of any change in attitude,” Whitehead, who co-chairs the All-Party Group on Sustainable Resource, continued.
“I would hope that this sort of initiative becomes commonplace before long, because that’s certainly the way consumers are going and for industry to put that in as part of its operating mode clearly makes it a very viable proposition for the future.”
Indeed, the company’s track record points towards a more sustainable model being a viable one. In FY20, 39 million of its 62 million potential waste products were saved through repackaging and reselling via initiatives like the Bargain Corner and in 2019, IKEA recorded its first ever fall in absolute climate footprint, which amounted to a reduction of 4.3%. In the same period, its sales grew by 6.5%, proving it is possible for companies to shrink their climate footprints while growing their business.
Sustainability is key for IKEA partly because like so many businesses, its fortunes are intrinsically linked to the health of the planet; it acknowledges that changes in global temperatures will ultimately increase costs and reduce revenues. And with an estimated 0.1% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions generated by IKEA’s own direct and indirect climate footprint, it has huge scope to deliver a significant impact on global emissions.
For this reason IKEA has prioritised playing leading roles in movements such as the Race to Zero and the British Retail Consortium’s Climate Roadmap, through which it shared its learnings with other retailers. It’s also calling on the Government to develop a clearer policy pathway and to work collaboratively with businesses to build the infrastructure they need to adapt.
In the meantime, IKEA will continue to press on with its sustainability overhaul, confident in its belief that being kinder to the planet isn’t just an act of corporate social responsibility; it’s also good business sense.