I am surrounded by a wall of sound. The low rumble of trolleys laden with meals, like whispered thunder. The chinking of cutlery on crockery. A cacophony of voices. Crying babies. Excited five-year-olds. Wearied parents. Lovestruck couples. Welcome to IKEA, where consumerism has become a form of recreation.
It seems that for many going to IKEA is an experience to be enjoyed, an outing to look forward to. The place is huge and has all the resonances of a theme park. The takeaway food stalls selling hotdogs and soft drink and soft serves. The cafeteria. The massive car parks. The long queues at checkouts located in vast open spaces. The palpable sense of anticipation.
It’s pure marketing genius. I despise shopping at the best of times, but I find myself caught up in the mood, thrilled by the discovery of bargain priced furniture and sensing that something that attracts this big a crowd must be worthwhile.
And it comes from a company that appears to be making serious efforts to ensure it has a sustainable and fair supply chain. IKEA has invested heavily in renewable sources of energy for its factories and outlets and ensures that the timber in its furniture can be traced back to the forest of origin and that those forests are sustainably harvested. In the last couple of years the company has begun rolling out living wage programs for its workers and suppliers. There is still some way to go but the direction seems to be positive.
I don’t know what to make of it. I find myself confronted with the feeling that we’ve become trapped inside consumerism and we simply don’t know how to find a way out. For all its laudable efforts to be ecologically and socially responsible IKEA feeds and is fed by consumerism, that malady of the human spirit where the experience of consumption is in itself a reward we seek, yielding the overconsumption that is driving our planetary ecosystems into dangerous places. And for all my desire to live in a way that is ecologically and socially responsible, I have to admit that I too enjoy the experience of consuming and acquiring. I’d like to believe that IKEA represents the hope that there is a way we can continue to consume at the levels we do and for it to be sustainable. But I suspect that is very wishful thinking.