When Marketing Slogans and Reality Aren't Aligned: Ikea and the Case of the 600-Year-Old Russian Forests


Justified or not, the Ikea brand has always been appreciated as one which is sensitive to global concerns like deforestation, pollution, and sustainable living. The company courts these opinions in all of its markets, while also demonstrating that those values can be obtained without paying top dollar for premium products made from the world’s most renewable sources and greenest technologies. But recent findings indicate that Ikea’s claim to live up to eco-friendly values might be little more than a claim at all. The company has been exposed as having cut down trees as old as 600 years old throughout northern Russia as it rushes to make profits and sell more of its ultra-affordable home furnishings.

An Ironic Marketing Campaign Belies the Problem

Ikea recently unveiled one of its newest marketing slogans, “We Love Wood,” in all of its market around the world. That slogan was thought to be an indication that the company respects the world’s forests and its seeking to produce furniture while also coexisting with nature in a harmonious way. In fact, that’s the way Ikea describes the slogan and its intended meaning.

The problem is that Ikea, which has made roughly $30 billion in profits in the last three years alone, seems to be loving wood so much in its stores that it’s killing near-ancient trees in Russia to make its billions. The company has been rightly accused of cutting down trees in the northern Russia forest region of Karelia which are more than 600 years old in some cases. Environmentalists contend that thee trees have significant value for preservation and conservation, not the least of which is their age and their ability to withstand virtually all of the elements nature can throw at them.

Ikea, on the other hand, says it can’t be held responsible for every tree. The Forest Stewardship Council, which oversees corporate citizens and the actions they take in nature, tends to agree. While the organization hasn’t outright defended Ikea’s practices, they’ve stated simply that they can’t “legislate” every tree, and it’s impossible for them to know what’s going on in every section of forest that they keep tabs on. The organization says it has no intentions of removing its support for Ikea, even as evidence mounts that the company is doing something pretty egregious in northern Russia.

A World of Thick Contradictions in Reactions and Policy

While the Forest Stewardship Council continues to support Ikea as a member of its responsible and eco-friendly list of companies, others have expressed concern and outrage over the company’s actions. Sweden’s Protect the Forest organization, and the worldwide Global Forest Coalition, have both privately expressed their concerns to the company’s executives that their behavior and decisions in this area are objectionable and not in line with their beliefs or standards.

Shockingly, Ikea forest manager Anders Hildeman hasn’t denied the company’s actions in northern Russia over the past several years, even while insisting that the company remains committed to an eco-friendly existence. He’s continually pointed out that Swedwood, the company which primarily secures the wood used for Ikea products, was the first member of the Forest Stewardship Council after being admitted in 2006. It’s not clear how this redirection of questioning plays into Ikea’s former or future actions in the world’s natural habitats, but it does make clear that even environmentalists can’t decide whether the growing company is making its best effort or simply covering its tracks.

Still More to Learn About Ikea’s Eco-Hazards

The jury is out on just how egregious an offense Ikea’s destruction of Russia’s 600-year-old trees really is. Environmental groups remain committed to discovering the company’s intentions, and whether it’s part of a long term pattern or strategy, while cautioning that Ikea might be pulling the wool over the public’s eyes. If anything, this story has at least opened the company up to well-deserved public scrutiny over its business practices and adherence to green principals, and that accountability can only be a good thing as the company and its customers move forward together.

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  1. John Trasker

    This post is a bit over-simplified. Rainforest Alliance investigated Swedwood’s practices in Russia and found no violations of FSC standards. WWF, Rainforest Alliance and SPOK (one of the groups now complaining) helped develop the FSC Russian standards.

    Unlike in the US, in this part of Russia, old growth is not rare. If there are only old trees around, is it OK to cut old trees? That’s a tough question, and one people disagree on. And it’s at the heart of this debate.

  2. Pip Howard

    Old growth in Russia will become rare, like in the US, if such practice continues. And this is a huge problem for us all. Is it okay to cut old trees? – the answer is not tough, it is simple – absolutely NOT. In economic forestry terms it is a daft system because all research proves what many of us can guess at, that the old growth trees remaining on the planet are vital assets in providing a strong future resource to breed from and which continue to provide an underground rich network of symbiotic organisms which will aid the growth of both naturally regenerating and planted trees – the trees we need for Sustainable Development.

    Inference that the involvement of certain NGOs somewhat justify the creation of the flawed certification standards in Russia – that are not in line in with those in most developed countries and which also destroy the good sustainable forest management which can be and is being achieved, is a fatuous inference. The NGOs should get out and stay out of what they clearly know nothing about, but are capable and have damaged the very environment they purport to protect as well as the wider forestry industry that could and should be in charge of itself, simply to make money.

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