IKEA – I Think I Love You?

Trying to live sustainably and ethically, I’ve tried to shy away from big box retailers. I’m certainly not immune to lure of a Target shopping spree every now and then, but I try to frequent the local mom and pop stores and support the brands that boast the strongest commitment to people and the planet.

It’s hard to know what to do when Walmart is the nation’s largest buyer of organic cotton, but at the same time infamous for cadmium jewelry recalls and accusations of poor working conditions, environmental pollution, and a right-winged agenda.

So I was always a bit hesitant to shop at IKEA. Apart from a personal preference for shabby chic over modern design, I feared that low-priced home furnishings were likely taking a high toll on the environment and working conditions.

But after a recent trip where I scored amazingly priced fabric play-food and a PVC-free play tent, I began to reconsider my prejudice and do a bit more research.

The “greenness” of IKEA has been addressed by some of the better green bloggers like Inhabitat and EcoSalon. ApartmentTherapy.com recently released its own analysis stating, “Focusing on four major elements of the company — products and materials, suppliers, climate change, and community involvement — things are looking pretty green for Ikea. If you are going to spend your money at big corporations, Ikea is at least trying to take responsibility for their impact on the environment with a variety of approaches.”

IKEA is making strides towards running its buildings on renewable energy, and currently most of Ikea products are recyclable, made from recycled materials, or both. Personally, I was happy to see labels with clear notations of plastic numbers on each of the products in store. I was also thrilled to learn that IKEA banned use of PVC back in the ‘90s.

Maybe IKEA is so ahead of the game because they follow some of the more rigorous European standards of product safety and quality.

When I was concerned about formaldehyde in their well-known particle board furniture, I received a clear and thoughtful answer from my local IKEA contact:

Formaldehyde occurs naturally in for instance wood, apples and in tomatoes. Formaldehyde can also be added in industrial processes such as hardener for glue. High emission levels, concentrate of formaldehyde, can imply irritation and in exceptional cases, health hazard. IKEA has decided to lower the Formaldehyde level in wood based board from E1 to approximately ½ E1.  IKEA has a long term vision that emission levels in wood based products shall be on the same levels as natural wood. The up-to-now level, a European standard level known as E1, is considered as an adequate level and safe with no known health hazards . IKEA has however decided to further lower the level by halve the E1 level as of September 2008. This is the latest standard for all IKEA products made of particle board and MDF boards. We want to be as transparent about it as possible – thank you for asking!”

Some criticize the store for selling items with short life spans, but my IKEA furniture has lasted through a couple of moves. I’m sure IKEA isn’t perfect – the cotton isn’t organic and the wood is not yet completely FSC certified. But with the motto, “low price, but not at any price,” I think IKEA is currently winning my jaded heart.

Read more about IKEA’s sustainability policy and let me know what you think.

Note: These opinions are my own and I was not compensated by IKEA. I wish 😉



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