Ikea exec says we've hit 'peak home furnishings'

Ikea's chief sustainability officer has said that we may be reaching "peak home furnishings," despite being part of the world's largest furniture manufacturer.

That's not stopping the company from saying it wants to double sales by 2020, however

These trollies are outside an IKEA store in Wembley, north London. During a Guardian Sustainable Business debate, chief sustainability officer Steve Howard said that the west was reaching "peak home furnishings." (Neil Hall/Reuters)

Ikea's chief sustainability officer has said that we may be reaching "peak home furnishings," despite being part of the world's largest furniture manufacturer. 

Steve Howard, Ikea Group's head of sustainability, was at a Guardian Sustainable Business debate when he suggested that people may be done with buying new things. 

"In the West, we've probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I'd say we've hit peak red meat, peak sugar, you know, peak home furnishings," he said.

He said this in response to an audience question about how to be a "business without growth" to restrict the effects of climate change.  

Panelists, like the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, objected, saying that growth doesn't have to just be making more items. 

There was also some discussion about how companies would have to look towards longer term growth and push towards parts of the world where fewer consumer items are available.

In an earlier part of the debate, Howard suggested that what people enjoy most in life has nothing to do with buying things. It's the time we spend with family and friends that is important, he argued.

"If I asked people ... here ... what was the most important thing in our lives we would not tell us an Ikea sofa," Howard said. "We have to remind ourselves to solve climate change, a lot of that is a change in the value structure."  

Even without climate change, it appears that "peak stuff" might be the right way to look at the furniture market in the U.K., where the debate took place.

Usually, when the housing market grows, people go out and buy more furniture. According to a researcher for Euromonitor International, however, that hasn't happened. 

"Demand [for furniture and furnishings] has not really picked up as much as it could have due to the growing proportion of consumers renting rather than owning their own place," said Ratna Sita to the Financial Times in the U.K., adding that they're more frequently buying portable multi-use products, like sofa beds. 

IKEA doesn't plan on making any less money, despite Howard's comments. He said that the company is still on track to double its 2011 sales by 2020 through repairing and recycling old furniture. 

That includes IKEA's catalogues. With the arrival of the 2016 catalogue in September, Belgians could bring in their old catalogues and shred them to bits for stuffing in the new Küss pillow, according to Dezeen magazine.

"Our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people and we are determined to make a positive difference to people and the planet," said Peter Agnefjall, the president and chief executive of Ikea Group, in a statement to the Independent

"That's why we want to become completely sustainable by transforming our business and why we're raising our voice on critical issues such as climate change." 


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