A table with wooden furniture parts and a number of hands holding some of them and pointing at an assembly intruction.

Designing for a circular future

Circularity is about transforming the existing ‘take, make, waste’ linear model to the opposite – reuse, refurbish, remanufacture, and recycle. One key piece of the puzzle is to adopt circular thinking during the design phase of the product, developing it right from the beginning so it can reach its full circularity potential one day.

IKEA is committed to becoming a circular business by 2030. This is a great challenge and an opportunity to reshape how we see value in the things around us. Here we offer our take on what circular product design means and how to navigate this approach when designing a new product or simply understanding how circular an existing product already is. Use this interactive tool to follow the journey of designing for circularity. This tool is intended to be a guide. In its contents, you will find inspiration, direction, and food for thought. It is not a checklist of things to do, rather a place to start.

Click here to start assessing your products

The recipe for circular design success

Circularity is about products and materials flowing back to be used as resources again and again in what is commonly referred to as circular loops. For IKEA, circularity will impact all aspects – from how and where we meet our customers, how and what products and services we develop, how and what materials we source, and how we develop the IKEA supply chain. It is also how we define reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recycling as a means to retain as much value as possible and extend the life of resources, products, parts and materials for our customers and IKEA.

These are the circular loops we are working with:

Reuse

Once people acquire a product, the product enters the first circular loop of reuse. Reuse is how we describe the customer use of the product and it includes all aspects of normal product use and care, such as maintaining its condition and adapting them to the evolving needs of life. This also includes passing on products and enabling secondhand markets.

Refurbishment

It’s the process by which used, damaged, or non-compliant products are restored to ‘like-new’ condition with limited improvements. This includes repairs and upgrades made by customers or an after-market service in their home or another location. Through refurbishment, products are evaluated, cleaned and/or repaired, upgraded, recertified, and eventually released back into the market.

Remanufacturing

Remanufacturing of products is a process by which usable parts from dismantled products are used to produce new products, increase resource recovery, and potentially lower the cost for IKEA.

Recycling

Recycling is how products are transformed into new raw materials, which can then be used within IKEA or external supply chains. This process is the last step for every product part. The pre-requisite for a product part to reach this stage in its life cycle is that when relevant, all possibilities to go through the reuse, refurbishment, or remanufacturing loops have been considered.

Our circular product design principles

What is a circular product? For IKEA, it’s a product with built-in design features and capabilities for convenient reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and at the very end of life, recycling. Not all products have the same possibility to be circular, and therefore, there is no one single recipe for circular product design. Instead, it is a combination of various circular product design principles that together create a built-in possibility for all products to last as long as possible, and eventually become a resource for new products. At IKEA, we have described these principles to better understand how we can enable products to be circular.

Calculating a product’s lifespan

Designing circular products means doing things right from the beginning by designing products to be repurposed, repaired, reused, resold, or, as a last resort, recycled, generating as little waste as possible and enabling a systemic shift toward a circular economy. Before we can consider which design principles to apply to any product, we must first consider the product’s lifespan and how an emotional connection will influence it. How can an expected product lifespan be defined? This question can only be answered by combining knowledge about how the product will be used and how the product will be handled before, during and after ownership, such as product leasing, care and repair, resale, etc.

The emotional factor

Together with great functionality, an emotional connection is why people maintain, repair, and don’t throw away a product. Objects that hold memories and tell stories are special because they represent and remind us of the most important parts of our lives. Those memories are more important than the product itself. Each customer creates their own story around how they acquire, care for, and pass on the product. By providing a positive experience through all the phases of this journey, they can build an emotional connection to the product. Another way to create a connection is to include unique details in the design of the product. This could be through possibilities to personalise, meaningful collaborations, shared designer intentions, handmade production, and limited editions.

Functional sustainability is key

Developing products with functionality that supports sustainable living is what we refer to as designing for ‘functional sustainability’. It enables a saving of money, time, energy, and resources by helping people grow their own food, clean the air, save water, and more. In addition, it’s another opportunity to create an emotional connection that will last. This again deepens people’s appreciation for the product, and when they no longer want it, they are much more likely to sell it, refurbish it, or give it away rather than throw it out.

The design principles

Two hands, one holding beige-brown wooden fibers, the other one holding small white PET plastic pieces.
  • Circularity means choosing the right materials from the beginning.

    Choosing renewable and recyclable materials is fundamental to sustainable design, production, consumption, and business. This is one way to develop products within the boundaries of the planet.

    This principle is relevant for all four circular loops.

A wall with small kitchen setups from different IKEA series in grey, white, and natural wood colour, and a kitchen table.
  • Circularity means enabling care, repair, upgradability, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and eventually recycling of products over an extended period of time.

    Standardisation creates preconditions for products to move through the loops of reuse, refurbishment, and remanufacturing at a faster and more efficient rate, retaining value up to their full potential. By using standardised fittings, the number of spare parts needed is reduced, thereby limiting the amount of waste. Standardisation creates possibilities for modularity, exchange and repair of broken parts, and compatibility.

    There are three main ways to secure standardisation in our products:

    1. Use of shared solutions, fittings, and parts
    2. Use of standardised materials and recommended colours
    3. Use of standardised components to secure interchangeability with other brands.


    This principle is relevant for all four circular loops.

A man in a hoodie with a yellow spray bottle and a green piece of cloth is cleaning and taking care of his sofa.
  • Circularity means extending the life of products through maintenance and prevention.

    When developing products, it’s essential to think about how the products will be used in everyday life. Are there parts that can easily wear out? Could they be redesigned to last longer? What potential maintenance will people have to do to keep the product in tip-top shape? By answering questions like these, product design and care instructions can minimise possible wear and tear to materials and components and anticipate what maintenance activities are needed. In addition, products for care and maintenance can be developed and made readily available.

    This principle is relevant for the Reuse circular loop.

A closeup of two hands and a tatooed, muscular arm holding a wooden stool while grinding it manually with a sanding sheet.
  • Circularity means developing products that are easy to repair when something goes wrong.

    Accidents happen. Other times, a product is used so often it eventually breaks. But this does not have to be the end of its usefulness – we can anticipate potential risks for breakage by understanding the daily use of the product, and all possible needs for repair should be addressed early in the design process. By using relevant information from, for example, customer ratings, reviews and what spare parts customers ask for in similar products, parts that break often can be identified and redesigned. Secondly, convenient repair solutions should be made available for customers whenever they need them. We will identify what parts are likely to break and work with relevant stakeholders to ensure their availability for customer at-home repair, refurbishment, or when necessary, replacement.

    This principle is relevant for the Refurbishment circular loop.

A living room in dark green and yellow tonalities, a modular soda, an armchair, storage furniture and different lamps.
  • Circularity means designing products that can fulfil evolving customer needs.

    For a product to stay in use for as long as possible, it’s crucial that it can adapt to life in the customer’s home. IKEA market intelligence, ratings, and reviews may be helpful in identifying these potential life changes. By designing products to be adaptable to changing living situations and evolving needs, customers can add on, remove, or change parts of products instead of buying entirely new ones. In addition, good design makes it possible to change the style, form, or function of a product by, for example, altering configurations through modular design, customising surfaces, changing the fabric, specifying the function, and more.

    This principle is relevant for the Reuse and Refurbishment circular loops.

A hand attaching a wooden table leg with a wedge dowel mechanism to a wooden tabletop placed upside down.
  • Circularity means making reuse, refurbishment, and remanufacturing easier and more efficient.

    When designing products for reuse, they must be easy to disassemble and reassemble, eliminating the risk of breakage when moving them within a customer’s home, between different houses and customer, store and refurbishment centres. This addresses the customer complaint that they are not able to move our big furniture without it breaking. When products are refurbished, this will also enable detachment and reattachment of parts that need to be repaired, upgraded, or replaced. During the process of remanufacturing, reusable components will be easily separated without losing functionality.

    This principle is relevant for the Reuse, Refurbish, and Remanufacture circular loops.

Two hands unscrewing the star base from a red, upholstered swivel chair in a colourful, modern workshop.
  • Circularity means using existing materials and parts in the production of new products.

    In a world of limited resources, our products play an important role in becoming resources for the future. Through remanufacturing, we can apply usable parts from old products for new ones. For the sake of efficiency, it’s vital to understand the process of remanufacturing and have a close relationship with the remanufacturing partners and product engineers. Small changes in the development of new products and standardisation can save material, chemicals, water, and energy. This is also a great way to contribute to a lower product price.

    This principle is relevant for the Remanufacturing circular loop.

Two women outside an IKEA store, one stands next to a shopping cart and the other has her hands full of different textiles.
  • Circularity means choosing materials and how they are combined to enable recycling.

    Products today are our material banks for the future. They can be upcycled or recycled. Products designed for recyclability are using recyclable materials and can be easily separated based on knowledge about the industrial recycling processes.

    This principle is relevant for the Recycling circular loop.

Q&A

  • IKEA defines a circular product as a product that lives up to the five dimensions of Democratic Design (form, function, price, quality, sustainability) and is designed according to the relevant circular design principles, enabling a circular business through built-in design features and capabilities for convenient reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and at the very end of life, recycling.
  • Enabling circular loops is how IKEA will transform from a linear to a circular business, impacting all aspects from how and where we meet customers, how and what products and services we develop, to how and what materials we source and how we develop the complete IKEA value chain. It’s how we define reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recycling as a means to retain as much value as possible and extend the life of resources, products, parts and materials for our customers and IKEA.

    Reuse

    Once customers acquire a product, the product enters the first circular loop of reuse. Reuse is how we describe the customer use of the product, and it includes all aspects of everyday product use and care, such as maintaining its condition and adapting it to the evolving needs of life. This includes passing on products to secondhand markets.

    Refurbishment

    It’s the process by which used, damaged, or non-compliant IKEA products are restored to ‘like-new’ condition with limited improvements. This includes repairs and upgrades made by customers or an after-market service in their home or another location. Through refurbishment, products are evaluated, cleaned and/or repaired, can be upgraded, recertified, and eventually re-sold.

    Remanufacturing

    Remanufacturing by applying usable parts from dismantled products in the production of new products is a process that increases resource recovery while potentially lowering costs for IKEA.

    Recycling

    Recycling is the process by which parts from products are transformed into new raw material, which can then be used within IKEA or external supply chains. This is the last step for every product part. The pre-requisite for a product part to reach this stage in its life cycle is that when relevant, all possibilities to go through the reuse, refurbishment, or remanufacturing loops have been considered.

  • Our circular product definition sets the overall criteria for all circular products developed by IKEA. In addition, the circular design principles describe what aspects to consider to develop products with circular capabilities, enabling the possibility for the product to be reused, refurbished, remanufactured, and ultimately recycled, when relevant. Not all products will fulfil the criteria for all four loops of reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ circular product design recipe. Different circular design recipes are set for different product types and are determined by the product type, expected lifespan and circular flows of the product, and the material mix. For example, napkins are not suitable for remanufacturing, whereas a dining table can fulfil the criteria for all four loops.
  • By following the defined prerequisites in the circular product description, all products are designed according to relevant circular design principles and technical fulfilment criteria. More than 9,500 articles have been assessed, giving us a clearer picture of our current capabilities. The product with the lowest fulfilment of the circular product design principles is at 28.6%, and the highest is at 100%. The evaluation is measured on a scale of 0-2, where 0 denotes no fulfilment of any circular development criteria, 1 denotes some fulfilment, and 2 denotes 100% fulfilment. The results of the assessments have been aggregated and show where adjustments and adaptations to the products that already partially fulfil the criteria need to be made. Further needs for new developments and innovation have also been identified. This is the basis for the circular product development roadmaps toward the goal of 100% circular products by 2030 that have been set for all product areas.
  • More than 9,500 articles have now been assessed, resulting in many detailed insights. One key insight from the assessment is that both big bulky furniture and smaller decorative products have the potential to be more circular. And in the product assessments, the following areas have been identified as most influential:

    • Designing for standardisation and adaptability enables reuse and refurbishment through scalable maintenance and repair possibilities with standardised spare parts and remanufacturing by reusing parts in other products.
    • Material choice and how they are combined are the key enablers for recycling and the extension of material life. Using the right material for the expected lifespan based on expected use, minimises unnecessary waste and misuse of materials. It also enables recycling by simplifying the process.
    • Home furnishing accessories have a higher rate of existing circular capabilities than furniture. This is due, for example, to the simpler construction in terms of components and material mixes.

    In addition, assumptions we made during the development of the circular product design principles were confirmed and can be briefly generalised as:

    • No one size fits all circular product development recipe
    • Being able to choose a renewable or recycled material and design for recyclability is a major contributor to the products’ circular and climate capability
    • Standardised fittings and spare parts availability are key contributors to enabling repair and refurbishment
    • Expected lifespan/intended use needs to be set from the beginning of the design process to establish relevant circular design principles for the product.
  • Transforming IKEA into a circular business is one of our biggest ambitions and challenges for the future. Becoming a circular business is a systemic change impacting every aspect of what we do: from how and where we meet customers, how and what products and services we develop, to how and what materials we source and how we develop the complete IKEA value chain. The scale of this change requires that all areas of IKEA operations assess their current ways of working against the ambitions to transform into a circular business and develop action plans for their transformation. To be truly effective in this change, no part of IKEA can act independently. IKEA is one brand made up of many companies, spanning operations in over 50 countries around the world. Creating a circular business demands that we understand interdependencies within our own business and the relationship with our customers as well as the global system we operate in. We need to adapt and, in some cases, develop new ways of working together, developing new capabilities in areas we haven’t explored before. It will take time to work through this complexity, and when we do, we believe the scale of our collective contribution towards the circular economy will be significant.
  • Our commitment is to offer only circular products by 2030. It is an ambitious goal, but we believe we can accomplish this through innovation of, for example, materials and design, new technologies for disassembly and reassembly, standards development, and overall adaptation in our offer. The results of the circular product assessments have now also been aggregated and show where adjustments and adaptations to the products that already partially fulfil the criteria need to be made. Further needs for new developments and innovation have also been identified. This is the basis for the circular product development roadmaps toward the goal of 100% circular products by 2030 that have been set for all product areas.
  • We are committed to transforming our entire business into a circular one. This takes into consideration our complete value chain, from how we develop products, source materials, and develop our supply chain to how and where we meet our customers, no matter where this takes place. We are currently testing circular products and services in multiple markets, with the aim to offer circular solutions in all markets. They will be adapted to local capabilities, such as recycling infrastructures, and reflect customer needs and preferences.
  • IKEA started to offer spare parts to customers a long time ago. From February 2020, customers can order assembly parts such as nuts, bolts and screws online and free of charge to fix broken products. In addition, we offer replacement covers for seating. We are now exploring ways to extend the offer of the spare parts by selling replacement parts such as armrests, cushions and drawer fronts at affordable prices. We are also trying out buying back used products from our customers.
  • At IKEA, we are happy to see that people around the world love our products. We also know many customers put lots of energy and creativity into altering them. This ‘hacking’ is part of a lifestyle, an expression of individuality and a way to renew, update and make things last much longer. The richness of ideas and new solutions is inspiring. Of course, this must be done while maintaining safety. IKEA products are made with a specific use in mind. The products go through risk assessment and thorough testing during development to make sure that they live up to relevant standards and regulations on the market where they are sold, as well as to customer expectations. Therefore, it is important to note that IKEA does not encourage or take responsibility for any product hacking that changes the function, construction or intended use of the final product.

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