The seats of two chairs, one cork-coloured, the other blue, standing close together.

Being smarter by being circular

The way that materials and resources are being used at the moment needs to change. We need to stop thinking outside of the box and start thinking in circles. We spoke to Malin Nordin who is working to do this at IKEA, and there is nothing standing in her way.

IKEA has estimated that by 2030 they will be utilising a lot more material compared with today. Can IKEA grow without placing more pressure on resources? Is this an impossible equation?

Malin Nordin, Development Leader for Circular IKEA, says IKEA can do this by finding new and smarter ways to use material, both when developing products and meeting with customers. “I never see or seek a problem, I seek the solutions and take the challenge. I want to turn it into an opportunity,” says Malin.

IKEA has estimated that by 2030 they will be utilising a lot more material compared with today. So is this an impossible equation?

IKEA is focusing on closing the loop between harvesting materials, producing products and lab testing. “It is not difficult to find a material that can be both renewable and recyclable,” says Malin. The difficulty arises when assuring a material is good quality and safe, that it’s free from dangerous chemicals. It also has to be a material that is possible to manufacture with, and within the IKEA price range.

One product that has recently satisfied all these criteria is the KUNGSBACKA kitchen fronts. Together with their supplier in Italy, IKEA recently developed a new material made from recycled wood and recycled PET-bottles.

A portrait of a smiling woman wearing a blue top with a colourful pattern.
Pushing circular thinking at IKEA, Malin Nordin.

Designing for an emotional attachment

Through research, it is evident that an emotional connection is the number one driver for keeping products and investing to prolong their life. “It is so important for the customer to have a story that is connected to a product,” says Malin.

While IKEA is going to great lengths to change their practices, a few changes are in store for customers too. Adaptability and maintenance are keywords. An innovation such as the Wedge Dowel makes it easier and faster to both assemble and disassemble IKEA products, great for when moving house or re-furnishing an apartment. Designer Johanna Jelinek, during a recent project in South Africa, started experimenting with a furniture repair kit. Johanna describes the metal fittings as a decorative element that will bring deeper meaning to furniture in people’s homes, letting it change over time.

“We want to meet the customers with different service solutions, helping our consumers not to feel wasteful and be able to prolong the life of already existing products,” says Malin Nordin.

During the recent Stockholm Furniture Fair, Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA, talked about how IKEA is not only aiming to fulfil the functional needs of IKEA customers but also the emotional needs as well.

Four flask-shaped vases in coloured glass.
From sketch to final product, vases made of recycled glass for the new IKEA PS 2017 collection.

Seeing waste as a resource

Being circular means eliminating waste at every step of the way. Designers have been kept in the loop closely as they are key in building a circular IKEA, they need to have a deep understanding of how to make products circular.

For the IKEA PS 2017 collection, Iina Vuorivirta designed a vase made of the glass waste from other production. The vase is handmade from pieces of glass that didn’t quite make the cut the first time around, but in a second life give each vase a unique pattern.

The TÅNUM carpet is made entirely from leftover materials from bed linen production. Another example of feeding waste from production back into the production cycle.

Creating a circular IKEA is neither a simple task, nor a quick fix:  “We always want to do things with speed, and systematic thinking always take time,” says Malin. Products must be designed to last longer, resources have to be used efficiently, all transport (both IKEA and its supplier’s transport) needs to be as efficient as possible. Unavoidable waste needs to be turned into resources, and IKEA needs to generate its own renewable energy. The goal of producing as much renewable energy as IKEA consumes has been set for 2020.

“Like all big changes, you try a lot of things and fail quite often; then you have a few successes. One of the biggest challenges today is that IKEA is a resource specific company. We need to think differently,” says Malin Nordin. And IKEA is working hard to do just that.

Products made from recycled materials:
KUGGIS: Storage box made of PET bottles that have been transformed into plastic pellets or flakes, making KUGGIS itself easily recyclable.
TÅNUM: Made entirely from left over materials from IKEA’s bed linen production.
ODGERMade of wood plastic composite, where 30% of the material is wood, a renewable source, and at least 55% of its remaining materials is recycled plastic. This means it has less impact on the environment than virgin oil-based plastics.
IKEA PS Vase: Made from re-melted recycled glass rejected due to defects or bubbles.
TOMAT: Made from left over film protecting some IKEA products.
VALLENTUNA: Cotton in this sofa series is either recycled or comes from more sustainable crops which means it is grown with less water, less fertiliser and less pesticides while farmers receive higher profit margins.