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14 September 2021

“A win-win situation”: Innovative circularity projects in IKEA Norway, Poland and Sweden


With furniture designed to be used and loved for many years, stains, scratches and worn-out patches can be part of their character and charm. But when items stop becoming usable or comfortable, they don’t have to end up on the scrapheap. 

The IKEA vision of a circular future, for a better company and a better world, extends to the circle of life for products. With the goal of becoming a circular business by 2030, IKEA is finding ways to prolong the life of products, to turn waste into resources, recycling and reusing materials and preventing anything with the IKEA label from ending up in landfill. 

In November 2020, the world’s first second-hand IKEA pop up store opened in Sweden, where old furniture and furnishings are given a second chance at life with care and repair. Situated in the ReTuna Shopping Centre in Eskilstuna, and run by the existing IKEA Västerås store, customers can donate used furniture that, after being cleaned and repaired, are rebought at a lower price. (video at the bottom of the page)
 
The circle of life
IKEA Poland and IKEA Norway have been developing innovative projects of their own to introduce their customers to the benefits of a circular approach. Initiatives finding new life for spare parts, launched in the past year, have already proven to be a great success in both countries. 

“We want to make healthy and sustainable living accessible to our customers and co-workers, honouring the finite boundaries of the planet,” says Agata Czachórska, Country Sustainability Manager, Poland. “We know that climate change and resource scarcity already influence the everyday life and buying decisions of customers. Feedback tells us they don’t want to be wasteful. We want to enable them to prolong the life of products, and offer new options for them to acquire, care for and pass on products in circular ways.”

Tobias Lien, Marketing Communications Manager, Norway, agrees. “We have learnt that Norwegians really want to recycle, buy second hand, and contribute to reaching our 2030 circularity goals – they just need to know where to start! Our project shows customers how we can work together to create a solution for the throwaway problem.”

Circularity in Poland
Poland has always occupied a special place in the heart of IKEA. In 1961, it was the first country outside Sweden to welcome IKEA and became their manufacturing home. IKEA founder, Ingvar Kamprad, went so far as to say that ‘IKEA was born in Poland’: “It saved our life, getting us out of trouble in tough times when we couldn’t source chairs and tables from anywhere else.” 

It is fitting, therefore, that the country that gave IKEA its second chance is now giving the same opportunity to its products.  As Agata says, “Poland is a great market to test circular initiatives”, as it is home to not only 6 shopping centres and 11 stores, but it also plays a role in the entire IKEA supply chain – from production, through to suppliers, distribution, retail, and even wind farms. The country remains the world’s second biggest manufacturer of IKEA furniture, producing popular ranges such as LACK, HEMNES, KALLAX, PAX and EKET. 

New life for old sofas 

IKEA Poland has focused on sofas for its initial circularity projects. Sofas are one of the main products that customers buy to last for many years. They are the centrepoint of the home, and have to withstand heavy use. For many families they will be an investment piece that they can’t afford to lose or throw out. 

“Sofas were a natural starting point for us,” explains Agata. “We offer replacement sofa parts online on our IKEA.pl site, allowing customers to upgrade, adjust, refresh or repair their old sofa.”

It is the first in a number of planned experiments. “The replacement parts test is part of a bigger landscape of different projects and initiatives that will enable customers to prolong the life of their furniture. The aim is to keep as much value in the product and material as possible, meaning less waste.

”This first phase is a way to listen to customer needs and assess the best way forward. “We want to gain a better understanding of what value chain capabilities are needed to make this a desirable and successful solution for our customers. Based on our insights from the sofa test, we will create plans to make the offer available on a wider scale.”

IKEA Norway’s ‘Trash Collection’ Campaign
IKEA Norway took a different approach to getting the circularity message across to consumers. A hard-hitting video and poster campaign, launched in June 2021, shows old IKEA products abandoned in trash piles and landfills, on street corners, and in random rubbish heaps in parks and beaches across Norway. The IKEA product is highlighted and labelled with where it was found, what work was needed, and what the second-hand price is versus the original. 

As Tobias explains, it wasn’t hard to find the rubbish dumps. “The fact that we easily found 16 items of furniture in just a couple of days that could be re-used is a confirmation of why this campaign is so important.”

The campaign aims to encourage people to access the existing range of circular options in Norway, from the buy back service, spare parts availability and in the newly-launched circular hub. 

“A few stores have been taking back unwanted IKEA furniture for several years,” explains Tobias. “But now, all seven of our stores offer the buy back service. For the spare parts program, we have offered spare parts in our circular hubs for many years, but only started offering the service online early this year, which is making it much more accessible.”

Over 3 million pieces of furniture are thrown away each year in Norway. The campaign has had a major impact in ensuring fewer of those are from IKEA. “Since we launched the buy back service in our stores in November 2020, we have received 5,407 second hand products. We are proud to say that the monthly average has doubled with the launch of the Trash Collection campaign.”

So what happens to the ‘trash’? “Often, the products are just fine or maybe they just need a few small spare parts. If the product is in a very poor state, or outside the range of the IKEA buy back service, customers are advised to recycle it responsibly or donate it to charity. However, if we have the space, we do accept some to recycle ourselves.” 

The team have found that the top three categories that people want to give a new life to are drawers, bookshelves and TV benches, with the most common product being MALM.  

Good for customers…
Breathing new life into old IKEA items is great for customers. “If they choose the replacement parts, the value of the old sofa is prolonged and they save money, as well as having a positive impact on the planet and climate,” says Agata. 

Customer feedback to the sofa programme has been very positive, with comments including… 

  • “With small children, this offer gives a piece of mind. Even when “accidents” happen, I can still save my sofa and keep it longer.”

  • “My sofa is the central part of the life at home. This offer helps me to prolong the life of my sofa without worrying that my cats scratch the surface”
  • “When buying a new sofa it is nice to know that there are available replacement parts. This creates trust and shows that IKEA cares for the customer.”

In Norway, the Trash Collection offers an exciting opportunity for customers to discover highly collectible or vintage IKEA items. “Over half of the furniture we found for the trash collection is no longer at IKEA, which mean they are pretty vintage!” explains Tobias. “This includes the much lusted after STOCKHOLM chair in oak and leather. Buying second hand is a definitely way to create a unique home. We are super exited to see all of the treasures that will get a new home.” 

Good for co-workers…
Co-workers in Poland and Norway both report how happy they are to be part of something purposeful. “The fact that co-workers are contributing to our People Planet Positive agenda in their everyday work makes them feel proud and engaged, which co-worker’s satisfaction surveys prove,” says Agata. “They feel they have an impact.”

Tobias agrees. “The best thing is the amount of co-worker pride that comes with doing a campaign like this.”

… and good for the planet! 
Driven by our 2030 goals of being a climate-positive, circular business, the initiatives in Norway and Poland are significantly contributing to the health of the planet. 

“Offering replacement parts is one way we can address the challenge of resource scarcity through circularity, while at the same time developing our business,” says Agata. “This is truly a win-win situation.”

The projects are part of a much wider strategy towards living within the boundaries of the planet in a healthy and sustainable way. 

“We will continue our journey towards circularity by testing and implementing locally relevant solutions, minimising waste production in the stores, increasing our recycling rate, and finding new opportunities for closing the loops for different materials”, explains Agata. “We will continue to inspire customers in all channels to live a more sustainable and circular life, making customer experience in our Circular Hubs even better, and engaging with different stakeholders to create partnerships for a circular future.”   

Tobias adds: “At IKEA Norway the biggest actions we are working on right now is improving the buy back service, making free spare parts accessible for everyone through our online service, launching an all-new leasing service, and creating a joint national system for recycling – with more to come!” 

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