EVERYONE LOVES A BARGAIN, as long as we believe it’s in good taste. And nobody does low-price, high-style better thanIKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer.IKEApasses as the anti-Wal-Mart: a company where value and good values coexist. It uses design as a proxy for quality, and its brand—embodied by all those smiling, white-teethed Scandinavians standing next to smooth, shiny modular furniture with unpronounceable names—as a passport to a guilt-free world of low prices.
But put down your 59-cent Färgrik coffee mug and ask yourself: Can we afford to keep shopping at places where an item’s price reflects only a fraction of its societal costs?
IKEAdesigns to price, challenging its talented European team to create ever-cheaper objects, and its suppliers—most of them in low-wage countries in Asia and eastern Europe—to squeeze out the lowest possible price. By some measures the world’s third-largest wood consumer,IKEAproudly employs 15 “forestry monitors.” Eight of them work in China and Russia, but illegal logging is widespread in those vast countries, making it impossible to guarantee that all wood is legally harvested. (The company declines to pay a premium to ensure that all timber is legally harvested, citing costs that would be passed along to the consumer.)IKEAfurniture made of particleboard and pine is not meant to last a lifetime; indeed, some professional movers decline to guarantee its safe transport. But to be fair, creating heirlooms is notIKEA’s goal. Nor, despite a lot of self-serving hoopla, is energy conservation: the company boasts of illuminating its stores with low-wattage lightbulbs but positions outlets far from city centers, where taxes are low and commuting costs high—the averageIKEAcustomer drives 50 miles round-trip. Cleverly,IKEAtransfers transport and energy costs onto consumers, who are then handed the additional burden of assembling their purchases. Designed but not crafted,IKEAbookcases and chairs, like most cheap objects, resist involvement: when they break or malfunction, we tend not to fix them. Rather, we buy new ones. Wig Zamore, a Massachusetts environmental activist who was recently recognized for his work by the Environmental Protection Agency, is working withIKEAand supports some of the company’s regional green initiatives. But as he put it, “IKEAis the least sustainable retailer on the planet.” And in real costs—the kind that will burden our grandchildren—that also makes it among the most expensive.
Ellen Ruppel Shell is anAtlanticcontributing editor and the author ofCheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.
Blog del curso de diseño urbano (ARCH 4020) en ArqPoli del Profesor Oscar Oliver-Didier en el que se formulan nuevas herramientas de cartografía para tabular las distintas dinámicas que operan en la ciudad contemporánea. Las mismas luego se emplean como punto de partida para intervenciones especulativas dentro de diversos contextos urbanos.ArqPoli’s Urban Design course (ARCH 4020) blog directed by Professor Oscar Oliver-Didier in which new cartographic tools are formulated in order to tabulate the diverse dynamics that operate within the contemporary city. These are later employed as a starting point for speculative interventions inside diverse urban contexts.