As IKEA “Drops” Two New Lights, Questions About Disposable Design
January 30, 2012
As the grandchild of a Swedish grandmother, our family’s trips to IKEA are treated with ritualistic fervor (filling the void left by our deep atheism). You see, IKEA offers an idealized version of the country’s strongest suits: the class equality of jantelagen, the economy of lista (or “making due”), and the functionalism that makes Scandinavian design so famous. Even if you find the IKEA aesthetic unfashionable, as most designers seem to, you’d be a fool not to admire the brilliance of their lean manufacturing and supply chain model.
Now, upon news that the company has released two new pendant lamps, some are asking questions about how the company’s exponential expansion is affecting the environmental sustainability of its 12,000-product strong catalog. Read on.
Image of IKEA factory (c) snapperduffy.
IKEA was profiled in an amazing New Yorker story last summer, which brought to light new revelations on company culture and much-admired business practices. “We hate air,” goes the IKEA motto on shipping and packaging. Exhaustive testing of products and their packaging and shipping containers make the company a leader in supply chain efficiency, informed by ideas developed by Toyota and other mass manufacturers. Earlier this month, they unveiled plans to switch from wooden shipping pallets to cardboard pallets, shocking many who insisted that wooden pallets last longer and support a long-standing industry practice known as “pooling.” Which is all to say that our collective interpretation of IKEA is a sustainability-focused economy of means, focused on socially responsible capitalism.
Yet as we, as a culture, learn more about sustainability, we’re forced to question basic assumptions we make about chain retailers, even those that are committed to environmental responsibility. No doubt, IKEA is also questioning its model as thinking about carbon impact evolves. For example, as Paul Page points out, IKEA’s supply chain is only truly efficient if you define the end of the chain when the shopper buys the bed. Because IKEA stores are so massive, as a rule they’re located far from urban centers, necessitating longer driving times for shoppers. It might be more efficient to ship 1,000 beds to a single store, but you’re ignoring the carbon footprints of the 1,000 individual trips made by consumers to and from the store.
On friday, Core77 noted the unveiling of two newly-designed IKEA lamps. VASTER, writes the company, was the result of a failed floor lamp. They turned the failure upside down and hung it from the ceiling, and VASTER was born: a Verner Panton-ish pendant lamp that comes in red, blue, and white (meant to match IKEA’s existing kitchen chairs). Meanwhile, KLOR was inspired by the increasing size of shower heads in luxury fixture boutiques. According to IKEA’s spokespeople, the tiny balls of light that seem to “drip” from the pendant aren’t just meant to replicate the look of water, “they work like a lens to spread light evenly and without glare.”
The IKEA catalog contains more than 12,000 products. Each of those is available in 50 countries, and each undergoes an incredible amount of testing, leading to a remarkably focused product library and manufacturing process. The introduction of two new lights (some of the more expensive products to develop and test) might indicate improvements in the company’s virtual prototyping process, or even an increase in experimentation with their development and production strategies. According to the New Yorker, the company is currently in the midst of a power struggle. It will be interesting to see how the company deals with criticism from a global public that is increasingly aware of the environmental pitfalls of low-cost, high-volume box stores.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go set up my tent outside of the Red Hook IKEA. I need a VASTER in every color.