Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2022

Last year, as Ikea began testing a furniture rental program in some markets, it also began taking old furniture back from customers, so it could refurbish old sofas and resell them instead of having them sent to landfills. It’s just one aspect of the company’s plans to become fully circular by 2030—meaning that everything it makes is designed for reuse, repair, or recycling.

Through a new partnership with the nonprofit Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the company wants to help the rest of the home furnishing industry take the same path. In the wider furniture industry, while some large manufacturers use recycled material in some products and have other limited programs, and some startups have embraced circularity, Ikea is unique in its goals because of its sheer size.

“In the past few years, there’s been a rise in some isolated spots of some radical new business models for furniture like Feather, which rents home furnishings as more of a startup,” says Joe Iles, who leads the circular design program at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “I think the thing that stands out for Ikea . . . is that Ikea really represents an ability to scale some of the practices around the circular economy mindset and the strategies and practices of circular design.”

The company is taking on the challenge from several directions. It’s assessing each of its roughly 10,000 products to understand, at a baseline, how circular the product is today. It’s examining how it can better help customers prolong the life of products by making spare parts more accessible or offering repair and maintenance. It’s testing new business models like furniture rental.

It’s also figuring out how it can help amplify the secondhand market for Ikea furniture that already exists; in the tests with refurbished sofas last year, it learned what spare parts need to be on hand to make refurbishing feasible, which parts needed to be made more durably, and how using standardized platforms across various products could make the whole system easier to manage. 

While we encourage you to support your local furniture businesses, it’s vital to remember that IKEA’s impact as a giant corporation can be huge for the environment. If IKEA can become circular and show others how to do the same, then we’ll see less old furniture being dumped onto the streets and more being recycled from one home to the next.

Want to read more about initiatives dedicated to ushering in the circular economy? See the Optimist View on the circular economy from last Sunday.

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