Consumption, Ethical Choices

Ikea and the Ethics of Consumption

What’s a girl to do?

Today on, “Buy Nothing or Buy Better” aka my constant struggle, I’m trying to figure out what it means to buy some stuff from Ikea and whether or not it’s ethically sound.

After a bit of digging and quite a few puff pieces from the “2016 highlights” section of Ikea’s supplier portal, I found their 2016 Sustainability Report. If you click the link and it doesn’t load, try switching browsers; I use Chrome and had to switch to Safari to read it properly.

I was genuinely surprised by the report. It’s obviously glossy and aesthetically pleasing. I skipped the message from the CEO entirely, however the Chief Sustainability Officer did say some nice things. The trouble is, I don’t want nice words, I want just actions.

And honestly? Ikea delivers. The sustainability report was so impressive to me, because I associate cheap products and high volume sales with waste. But Ikea has reduced 89% of its waste, and intends to be 100% zero waste and total energy independence by 2020… How is that possible? Their designers and suppliers are clearly very, very hard at work. They’re addressing virgin plastics by removing them from the supply chain, they’re cutting palm oil out of their food and candle production; indeed, 100% of their candles are made without palm oil, but 50% of their foods still contain palm oil.

I’m interested in purchasing this clothing rack. It’s very cheap, very simple and probably not made from recycled materials. Only 26% of Ikea’s raw materials are from renewable or recycled resources. Still, 98% of the products produced are apparently recyclable…

At the end of the day, I don’t need a new clothing rack.

Instead of going to Ikea this weekend, I scoured and found one or two used clothing racks that are available around Paris. I was able to find a secondhand clothing rack that I’m picking up tonight. Happily, it was the slightly pricier model with a shoe rack on the bottom, which will hopefully make the rack more useful over a longer period of time.

I feel like I hit the jackpot with this secondhand rack, although I will need to get a good look at it and actually bring it home before the deal is sealed. I wouldn’t want to buy a secondhand rack only to find out that it’s going to fall apart, which would lead me to buy a new rack in the near future. I imagine it will be fine, but I’m trying to reserve judgement. Most of our Ikea furniture in the house is second hand, from our kitchen cabinets, to our wooden counter, and metal bar cart/all purpose rack.

The beautiful metal and glass shelves that really dress up our living room were had for less than half their original price from our neighbours in a nearby building who were moving to Canada. None of the pieces are perfect, but none of their flaws have bothered me as intensely as I originally thought they would.

I think that researching the way that Ikea and other larger companies source their materials and balance sustainability and sales can lead me to a complicated place. As I was texting the rack seller about the pickup tonight, I felt a twinge of, “Couldn’t I just buy one new? Surely Ikea’s sustainability report is good enough that I can just buy myself a fresh rack…”

But I truly do not need a new clothing rack.

The second I get it home and start hanging my dresses, it will be used. The second I knock into it in the middle of the night, it will have a scratch or a dent that complicates its newness and perfection.

I am very attached to the idea that buying something new means buying something perfect, and that buying something new means that it will stay perfect. It’s not true, and I understand that intellectually if not emotionally. Upkeep is a part of life, and even an Ikea item can take on the character of daily wear and tear.

In many ways, the easiest part of transforming how I consume things has been to stop consuming them at all.  The greatest challenge for me is not researching different products or even saving the money to buy something that is fair trade, organic, and/or low-waste (and possibly more expensive).

My biggest hurdle is understanding why I want to consume and the particular emotions and impulses associated with my buying behaviours. I feel nothing when I’m working to overcome advertising or trends, but I seem to feel everything when I’m working to overcome myself!



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