Taking sustainability even further
The agenda surrounding more sustainable materials at IKEA of Sweden AB is big and broad. Nearly every material is being challenged and questioned by a clever group of designers, developers and engineers. The result is a wide range of new materials for IKEA products that are more sustainable, less expensive and better for the planet.
With raw material prices increasing, the challenge – for any producer – is doing more with less and finding better ways to create more sustainable materials. One of the biggest overall IKEA goals reflects this reality – that by the end of 2015, all home furnishing products should come from renewable, recyclable (in at least one IKEA market on an industrial scale) or recycled materials.
The work to reach this goal is well underway, and practically no material is being left out. IKEA of Sweden has created products from robust bamboo; paper that has been made to look like leather; banana leaves and water hyacinth, long considered to be river waste; as well as metal, recycled polyester and foam.
Nothing is lost and everything gained
The textile team is a great example of a part of IKEA of Sweden that is making big strides in sustainable materials. In 2014, IKEA textiles introduced a pilot project for a range of plant-based fibres that will first go into curtains before being introduced in other products.
The textiles use bast fibres, which come from a group of plants like flax (linen) and hemp that have huge potential. They can be used in its entirety – minimising waste – and the materials can be transformed with less energy and resources, and at the right price.
“We are thinking about how to make use of the full plant apart from just the fibres we need, and take a more holistic approach so we waste nothing or the smallest possible fraction from each plant lifecycle,” says Clara Guasch, who leads material innovation for textiles at IKEA of Sweden. “We don’t just want to use the material; we want the material itself to have a positive impact.”
It’s also about choosing materials that generate a positive impact on the environment. Take bast fibres, for example. Most of these rotation crops actually improve the soil condition, and don’t require water irrigation, pesticides or chemicals or, if they do, on a far lesser scale than comparable fibres.
“We have to push for change in the industry,” Clara says. “Sometimes we can be a strong force, but we can’t make change happen by ourselves. We need and want to partner to achieve change across the material landscape.”
The vision is endless recyclability
Ultimately, we want to foster the principles of circular economy, a concept about a regenerative economy where nothing is lost and everything is transformed.
Designing for the future and choosing the right material blends is an important first step. It ensures that the fibres can be separated out at the end of a product’s life and recycled so they can be used again in production. Even though the technology to do this kind of up-cycling isn’t quite there yet, it ensures that we are prepared to act quickly when it does become available.
“The ambition is to up-cycle and use technology to restore the quality of the materials after they’ve been consumed or used to the same quality level or as close as possible to virgin materials,” Clara says. “Then the material will be continuously recyclable.”
The technology needed to up-cycle right now is expensive, and there are a few initiatives under development to make it a process that’s more accessible to the many people and that can be deployed successfully.
“We can’t send everything to a landfill because there is an end of life,” Clara says. “It doesn’t make any sense. This is the future, and it’s something we need to do for the planet.”