IKEA – from flatpack to fearless pioneer

* 6 min read


Following on from the inspirational Ellen MacArthur Sustainability Pioneers blog last week, IKEA leads nicely on due to its partnership with The Ellen MacArthur Foundation.



IKEA, world renowned for its affordable, flatpack home furnishing, is also leading the way with sustainability. With ambitious 2030 targets to become a circular and climate positive business, IKEA has lots of ideas up its sleeves.

What I love about IKEA, apart from the obvious affordable furniture and home furnishings, is that it refuses to stand still. For as long as I can remember IKEA has been a specialist at reducing unwanted empty space in its packaging however, to achieve its targets, it needs to rethink everything. Thankfully, that’s exactly what they are doing, through its partnership with The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it’s looking at all its 10,000 products and investigating how they can be redesigned to circular principles. It’s not just the products that are under the microscope, but also the whole business model.

With the quick realisation that it couldn’t just create a circular company overnight and in isolation, IKEA decided to work in partnership with its supply chain, customers and designers. Together they developed the idea to create a set of global definitions for terms surrounding circular design, with the aim to impact legislation. Legislation is changing, that is for sure. From a packaging perspective, I think IKEA are ahead of the game by using primarily fibre-based packaging today. If it applies the same rule to packaging as it has on product – only recycled or renewable based materials by 2030 and all its products to be reused, repaired and / or recycled, then it shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

Where IKEA steps ahead of other high street retailers is its ability to challenge, reshape and improve itself, and us (their customers).

In 2018, an incredible 8.7 million IKEA products were re-packed to be re-sold instead of going to waste. This was in additional to over 1 million orders of spare parts, which helped to repair products for a longer life. This has continued and IKEA are constantly reshaping their business model, including its buy-back initiative.
GC1Gillian Garside-Wight

The buy-back initiative launched in November 2020 which intentionally coincided with Black Friday, in a stand against excessive consumption. IKEA now buy back fully assembled drawer units, tables, chairs, cabinets, desks, shelving and cupboards in 27 countries. Returned pieces of furniture are graded from ‘as new’, which will get you 50% of the original price, to ‘well used’ which will get you 30%. Customers will receive an IKEA voucher card, instead of a cash refund, but importantly the voucher won’t have an expiry date, a move meant to encourage us to only buy furniture when we really need it.

Still on buy-back and recycle, IKEA not only sell the buy-back items in store, it has also opened an dedicated second-hand furniture shop in Sweden. This shop is in the “world’s first recycling mall” called ReTuna, which has revolutionised shopping in a circular way. Old items sold in ReTuna are given new life through repair and upcycling and everything sold is either recycled, reused or has been organically or sustainably produced. IKEA furniture and home furnishings will get a second chance, after being repaired and restored to former glory, and then sold at a much lower cost. I personally love this circular and progressive model and I don’t understand why there are not more of these around the world. Unfortunately, charity shops don’t always have the quality we desire and the only other alternative is ebay and other selling platforms, but this shouldn’t be the only way to buy and sell our items that still have life left in them.

IKEA Launches Resale Circular Hub Concept For Secondhand Furniture

Image source: The Guardian

However, if we buy and sell so frequently should we even buy at all? If you’re really honest with yourself, do you sell every item you no longer want or need, or just dispose of it? In the UK we dispose of approximately 22 million items of furniture each year, with the majority going to landfill. Research shows that just one in 10 of us consider fixing items in order to extend their lifespan. We have to rethink what we do and how we do it, just as IKEA have and continue to do.

With one of its latest initiatives, customers are able to rent items for a certain amount of time, then they are refurbished and re-used. This may seem like a waste of money renting when you could own it, but for students and businesses this could offer a lifeline. Student accommodation is temporary, which is why IKEA is offering students in the Netherlands the rental of a bed, desk, table and chairs for a monthly fee of up to 30 euros. IKEA also recognises that businesses need flexibility so are trialling office rentals in Sweden and Switzerland. Why store excess furniture when you could rent and only use what you need, when you need it?


Image source: IKEA

What I admire most about IKEA, and its quest for sustainability, is that its brave. Not content to only source sustainable products and packaging, while ensuring everything is optimised, it has really challenged itself and us to think differently. Yes, its shareholders would make more money from selling new all the time, but climate change and excess consumption is a huge issue.

So, what are you going to challenge yourself to do differently? We all need to be thinking about what’s next, how we can improve what we do and how we do it and importantly how we create a circular economy where our planet doesn’t suffer from our consumption and bad habits. Quite frankly IKEA is doing the right thing for a circular business, for us as consumers and our planet.

This needs to be recognised and celebrated, so well done IKEA! I’m personally excited to see what’s next on your journey and hope others will follow your lead.

Key takeouts:

  • Create reason beyond profit: doing the right thing should be reward
  • True sustainability should be circular: impacting product, people and planet
  • Challenge, reshape and improve: rethink everything from beginning to end, and maybe there is no end?
  • Disrupt: be brave and challenge tradition
  • Work in partnership: together we can make a difference


The Author: Gillian Garside-Wight - Sustainability Partner

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