Earth to IKEA

What that Poäng chair really costs.


FURNITURE USED to be an investment, meant to last a lifetime. But thanks in no small part to IKEA, that’s changed. Now we buy bookshelves for $19.99—and feel fine about throwing them away two years later. In her forthcoming book, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Ellen Ruppel Shell chronicles how the Swedish furniture giant crafted the message that furniture can be affordable and adorable and sustainable. “With its focus on sharp design and Scandinavian élan, its hip, irreverent television commercials, its conspicuously progressive outlook,” she says, “IKEA appears to be the anti-Wal-Mart, a classy, high-minded company where value and good values coexist.” But do they? IKEA is now the world’s third-largest consumer of lumber after Home Depot and Lowe’s—and though it likes to tout its sustainable harvesting program, the responsibility of policing the logging has fallen on just 11 forestry monitors. As Mother Jones has reported, up to 25 percent of IKEA’s furniture is made with wood culled from the vast forests of northern Russia—an area notorious for illegal logging—and milled in China. There’s just too much to keep track of, as one monitor admits in a company report: “It’s not possible to be everywhere all the time.” The larger point is this: When IKEA says its wood furniture is made from a “renewable material,” it reinforces the idea that disposable is okay.

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