Opinion

IKEA Australia, sustainability and Sustainable Materialism

“IKEA is at the forefront of designing for a new era of Sustainable Materialism and this largely due to their efforts in studying trends and patterns in the way people today live and consume.”

Image by Stanislav Samoylik. Sourced via Shutterstock, stock photo ID: 665153083

This blog provides a summarised version of ‘Structuring the Core Pillars of Business to Foster a Sustainable World’ – A research report by Agnes Broden, on behalf of the Sydney Environment Institute, which examined the sustainability measures taken by IKEA Australia, and how they link to the theoretical approach of Sustainable Materialism.

Over the past decade, there has been a societal shift from mass consumption and production, to a focus on local community production, involvement, and sustainable impact. Overall, consumers are becoming more aware of what and how they consume and are increasingly implementing sustainable practices into their ways of living. This can be seen in increased collective living situations (Peterson, 2017), as well as in more educated purchasing decisions (Jackson, 2005). This societal shift has been defined under the theoretical framework of Sustainable Materialism, which explores the changing relationship between consumers and material goods.

The notion of Sustainable Materialism, when applied in the business context, can provide companies with a framework to incorporate sustainability in their product design and across all levels of the supply chain, to help promote sustainability-oriented and collaborative lifestyle choices for consumers.

Sustainable Materialism and IKEA Australia

Considering their size and impact, IKEA Australia is adopting practices akin to the philosophy of Sustainable Materialism. As the world’s largest producer and supplier of furniture and a growing giant in the food-selling industry, IKEA has placed sustainability at the core of their business operations. Through their efforts within product design, supply chain management, investment in local communities and food production, IKEA is growing as a leader in sustainability within the business sector.

By examining IKEA Australia’s sustainability efforts through the lens of Sustainable Materialism, it is evident that there are many direct correlations between this concept and the company’s practices. However, significant correlations can be identified in the examples of food sustainability and sustainable production and design.

Food Sustainability

The Sustainable food practices that have recently been adopted by IKEA Australia have emerged as a natural part of the company’s sustainability work, which is occurring parallel to the rise of IKEA as one of the largest food-selling companies in the world.

IKEA Australia has integrated into its practices is the elimination of food waste. With the goal of 0% of food waste going to landfill, IKEA Australia is investing heavily in food recycling efforts. The stores in North Lakes and Logan have each invested around $80,000 in the instalment of food recycling systems, which “[…] converts food waste into a high-grade fertiliser which is donated to local schools for use on their gardens and grass areas” (People & Planet Positive 2017, 2017, p. 37).

Additionally, IKEA has adopted a food-philosophy that includes fair sourcing and the development of nutritious foods to meet the needs for a healthy and balanced diet and places a large emphasis on the need for locally grown food. Sustainable food practices are evident in that all food sold and manufactured by IKEA incorporate as much local produce as possible, and the meatballs sold in IKEA stores across Asia and Australia, are locally produced in Queensland. When food or raw products need to be sourced from distant parts of the world, IKEA requires that they are done so fairly, and with minimal environmental harm (People & Planet Positive 2017, 2017). This, in turn, encompasses important parts of the societal shift from mass to local production, as discussed by Schlosberg and Coles (2003).

Sustainable Production and Design

In acknowledging the growing consumer demand for compact living, and the estimated population growth to occur in cities across the globe, IKEA sets out to design furniture and home appliances that suit collective and small-space living situations. This approach taken by IKEA overlaps with the idea presented by Schlosberg (2013), that people want to embrace a collective way of living.

IKEA is at the forefront of designing for a new era of Sustainable Materialism and this largely due to their efforts in studying trends and patterns in the way people today live and consume. According to the findings by Jackson (2005), this kind of engagement in studying consumer behaviour is a crucial element of designing for Sustainable Materialism, because it gives the business the opportunity to understand what their consumers value.

Furthermore, even though IKEA’s core concept is founded on large-scale production to keep products affordable too as many customers as possible, the company is using small-scale community involvement in as many areas of production as is possible for operations. The shift from mass-production to an increased emphasis on handcrafted and small-community production, as well as a shift in the flow of power in supply chain relationships, is a crucial part of the Sustainable Materialism movement as discussed by Schlosberg and Coles (2003).

In analysing the sustainable practices taken by IKEA Australia under the theoretical lens of Sustainable Materialism, three conclusions can be made:

  • It is possible to combine large-scale production and local handcraft efficiently.
  • It is crucial for companies to understand the shifting consumer behaviour towards a more sustainably-oriented mindset when designing physical products.
  • Companies who want to implement sustainability effectively will benefit by incorporating it as a core concept of their business operations.

Broadly, the study of IKEA Australia in relation to Sustainable Materialism illustrates a general need for globally integrated companies to emphasise their engagement in the local communities in which they operate. Furthermore, future research which examines business and Sustainable Materialism should contribute to developing a broader understanding of how other companies are integrating Sustainable Materialism in their business operations, and how they are doing this in relation to an increasingly complex supply chain. This will increase knowledge on how large-scale production can contribute to environmental sustainability.

Access the full report here.

References

Jackson, T. (2005). Motivating Sustainable Consumption: a review of evidence on consumer behaviour and behavioural change (pp. 9-134, Rep.). Sydney: Guildford Surrey.
Peterson, D. (2017). The power of sustainable materialism (pp. 1-3, Rep.). Philadelphia, PA: The Triangle.
IKEA Australia. (2017). People & Planet Positive 2017. IKEA Sustainability Report. Access here.
Schlosberg, D., & Coles, R. (2016). The new environmentalism of everyday life: Sustainability, material forms and movements. Contemporary Political Theory, 15(2), 161-178.


Agnes Broden is a Bachelor of Business Administration student at George Washington University, Washington DC and Former intern for the Sydney Environment Institute’s Sustainable Materialism research area. Agnes has recently been selected to serve as the 2019 Vice President of Community Relations of George Washington University Women in Business, where she will be in charge of philanthropic, community and diversity efforts within the organisation. Agnes will be undertaking a summer position with Schneider Electric, where she will assist as their Corporate Social Responsibility intern. Agnes formally worked as the Director of Philanthropy for George Washington University Women in Business, orchestrating fundraising and supportive events for female entrepreneurs in the Washington DC area. In high school, Agnes Co-founded and was CEO of the social enterprise Willow Wear Young Enterprise (no longer active). The business produced bed wear out of 100% renewable materials and was named Sweden’s Most Sustainable Young Enterprise in 2014.