“Ikea, the lord of the forests”, on Arte: a discreet predator champion of greenwashing

The empire of the kit furniture giant knows no borders

“Ikea, the lord of the forests”, on Arte: a discreet predator champion of greenwashing

The empire of the kit furniture giant knows no borders. Everywhere, Ikea is expanding, absorbing forests and leaving only ruined landscapes. Because you have to feed the beast: to produce the Billy bookcase – one is sold every five seconds worldwide – and its hundreds of pieces of furniture with Swedish names, the firm consumes 20 million cubic meters of wood each year. That’s 1% of forests cut down. A tree cut down every two seconds.

Officially, however, the brand with the yellow and blue logo prides itself on working for the planet and sustainable development. It claims to only use certified or recycled wood, and to subject its suppliers to extremely precise specifications.

But here it is: to produce ever more, at ever lower prices, you have to “save money somewhere,” says Johan Stenebo, former assistant to Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Ikea in 1943, of whom he became a slayer.

A certain social democratic ideal

Journalists Xavier Deleu and Marianne Kerfriden travel to Poland, where 20% of the wood used by the Swedish flat-pack furniture giant comes from. They go to Romania and the Baltics, where Ikea has bought tens of thousands of hectares of forest (50,000 hectares in Romania alone). They visit Brazil, New Zealand. And everywhere, they make the same observation: old or not, it doesn't matter, the forests are razed, with disregard for the environment and the protection of biodiversity, the forest massifs transformed into lunar landscapes. “A quiet predator who became a champion of greenwashing,” the documentary summarizes.

Environmental activists testify to the intimidation and sometimes even death threats they have suffered. From time to time, scandals break out: Ikea suppliers are implicated. But still, the group dodges criticism and even manages to maintain its FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certificate, supposed to guarantee sustainable forest management and wood traceability.

The authors of the documentary also look at the history of the links established between Sweden and the small company founded in 1943 in Älmhult, in the county of Smaland, which in just a few decades became a global furniture giant. Ikea embodies a certain social democratic ideal. The right of all, including the most modest, to housing and furnishing themselves.

Flush cuts

The Scandinavian country, 70% covered by forests, ensures that the group continues to find wood, by fiercely defending a model of intensive forestry, based on clear-cutting and monoculture, which is increasingly criticized , in Sweden and outside.

In Brussels, the kingdom, which had nevertheless hosted the first United Nations conference on the environment in Stockholm in 1972 – the largest event ever organized in Sweden since the 1912 Olympic Games – is now obstructing all initiatives aimed at reduce the exploitation of forests, sparing no effort to find allies.

With success, it seems, since during his state visit to Stockholm at the end of January, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, praised the “sustainable” model of forest management in Sweden, while the two countries committed to increasing their partnership in this area.