Our Flat-Pack Furniture Love Affair and It’s Links to Deforestation

Kids outgrown their rooms? Garden furniture looking shabby? Whether you love it or hate it (or love to hate it) a trip to Ikea can often be on the cards when you’re redecorating. Flat-pack furniture is a quick and affordable way of sprucing up your home, and ending those furniture woes in a relatively pain-free fashion. But our addiction to fast furniture isn’t good for the environment and encourages a throw away and wasteful culture. 

Wood Consumption and Deforestation

As a sustainable and biodegradable material, wood may seem fairly eco-friendly. Relative to metal or plastic, it certainly takes less energy to produce. But the question over how it is sourced proves a sticky environmental issue. Around the world, forests and woodlands equivalent to the size of two million football pitches are felled every year. While much of this is due to agriculture, large amounts of timber is used for the flat-packed furniture industry.

Around the world, forests and woodlands equivalent to the size of two million football pitches are felled every year

Ikea, the biggest furniture producer in the world, uses 21 million cubic metres of wood every year. Wood consumption by the household brand has doubled in the last decade, meaning that each year Ikea has to use 1.8 – 2.5 million more trees than the last. Needless to say trees and forests are essential for carbon sequestration, and deforestation is a huge driver of climate change. 

Earthsight and Ikea: Illegal Woodland Felling

In 2020 – 2021 an investigation by NGO Earthsight found that Ikea was buying wood from illegal loggers in Russia. Loggers (who worked for a company owned by one of Russia’s richest oligarchs) were felling trees under the false pretence that they were diseased, damaged or dead. The boreal forests of Russia are some of the largest, untouched forests in the world and are an essential source of removing carbon from the atmosphere. 

Forests of the Carpathian Mountains – home to the European lynx and bears – were felled to source Ikea’s beech furniture

Earthsight also uncovered that the forests in the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine were being felled to source Beech for Ikea’s furniture. These virgin forests are a habitat for European lynx and bears. All of the wood for Ikea’s furniture is – in theory – sustainably sourced and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). However, Earthsight criticised the FSC’s processes of certification, saying they are not rigorous enough and allow illegal wood into the supply chain. 

Wood Consumption in the UK

Here in the UK, forest covers 10% of land mass, yet 10 million cubic metres of wood is imported every year, mostly for use in construction. It is estimated that one-tenth of that figure is illegally felled. Sadly, much of this wood is destined for the dustbin. 4.5 million tonnes of waste wood is produced per year in the UK. The good news is that as of 2020, 80% of this is reused, mostly in biomass power plants after chipping. 

Although 80% of waste wood in the UK is reused, this is mostly as chippings in biomass power plants, the net-zero credentials of which are debatable

How Can We Make Wood Consumption Sustainable?

When considering new furniture, first decide if it is truly a purchase you need. Could you re-paint that bookcase, or re-purpose an old table to build some shelves? Then look at vintage furniture shops, and sellers that have reclaimed lines, such as Barker and Stonehouse. Finally, if you do need to buy new go for smaller, artisan sellers that use responsibly sourced materials. Small businesses find it easier to guarantee sustainability as there are no large supply chains obscuring where their wood comes from. 

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