05 Feb 2018

Ikea tests renting out furniture as eco-friendly plan

In the future it might not only be your home that is rented. Everything in it could be leased too, from the furniture to the carpets, as companies including Ikea trial radical alternatives to selling household goods.

The Swedish furniture giant built its brand on the sale of good value household goods, often in flatpack form.

But now shoppers do not always feel the need to own the products, and are worried about the environmental impact of disposing of furniture, said Jesper Brodin, chief executive of Ikea.

“So we are testing radical solutions. There are very different levels of interest depending which city you are in. So in London, for example, there are a lot of people who commute and they are not interested, with passion, in building a second home, so rental there is more interesting,” he said.

In Japan one experiment is to buy back sofas from customers, instead of throwing them out, and then recycling the materials.

The aim is to match shoppers’ demand for a more sustainable business model, he told the World Economic Forum in Davos, to create a more “circular” economy.

“If the last decades were about mass consumerism, now we are getting towards mass circularity,” he said, adding that Ikea is also developing a material made from cellulose fibres which can be used to build furniture in a more environmentally friendly manner.

Even carpets could be rented in future, according to Feike Sybesma, chief executive of Dutch science group DSM, who also spoke at the panel event.

His firm has created a polyester carpet which can be recycled rather than thrown away, and so can be turned into new carpets indefinitely - so by renting the carpet instead of selling it, the manufacturer can take back and reuse the material.

“Why should you own a carpet, maybe you could just rent it,” he said. “If the manufacturer can use your carpet as an input, then you could rent the carpet, you don't need to buy any carpet again for the rest of your life, just rent it."

Mr Brodin said that with these types of models "you build in an economic incentive, you build in a consciousness with consumers that they don't have to own it, but own this collectively in the world and recycle it”.

This represents another step towards the “Uberification of everything”, said recycling entrepreneur Privahini Bradoo, founder of BlueOak, at the same event, referring to the car-sharing taxi service.

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