11 June 2012

IKEA, I Had No Idea

Recently I decided to buy a couple of new bookshelves for the office. That process prompted me to contemplate the concept of "embodied energy" -- the energy required to harvest materials, manufacture the item, package it, and bring it to the location where it is going to be used. Bookshelves don't use energy on an ongoing basis, of course, but that doesn't mean they never used any. (The same was true of the stone on the house; our choice of Leuders limestone from Leuders, Texas, saved energy over stone trucked in from out-of-state.)

Between the aesthetic I was going for and the amount I was looking to spend, Ikea's Expedit shelves were the logical choice. Ikea is known for its affordable, some-assembly-required furniture, and the low cost is due in part to the relatively little embodied energy required to ship items disassembled in flat packs. Of course, locally made items made of locally harvested materials have the least embodied energy, but within my budget for this project, Ikea fit the bill. Fortunately, most of Ikea's wares are no longer made in Sweden (now they come from all corners of the world); my Expedits were made in the USA. Since each box was about a quarter the size of the completed unit, four times as many fit into each shipment from the factory to the store as if they were pre-assembled.

Another way Ikea's furniture is kind to the environment is that laminated products like my Expedit shelves are made with the leftover bits of wood products (the shelves are laminated on all sides so they can be used both horizontally or vertically and as room dividers, so I'm not exactly sure if it's particleboard or something else in there). That allows maximum use to be made of trees that are cut down for regular wood products, saving trees overall. So, although this transaction hardly exemplified "buy local," I was feeling pretty good about my purchase of two Expedit units:

Here's a "before" shot, if you're into that kind of thing:

As soon as the new units were set up, I read this article accusing Ikea of pillaging old-growth forests in Russia, despite their stated commitment to sustainability.

I hope there's more to this story, that it isn't what it seems, but so far it isn't looking good for Ikea and its lumber subsidiary, Swedwood. But I'm reserving judgment and, either way, I'm hopeful that the light that has been shed on the issue will lead to positive changes in the way wood is harvested, not only within Ikea but also more widely. (Check out the Forest Stewardship Council website for more information about responsible forest management and lumber practices and this update regarding the allegations against Swedwood.)


  1. Hi! I was wondering what color green you have on the walls? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Kelly, it's Sherwin-Williams Lemon Verbena at 75% (meaning that it's a bit lighter than the swatch).