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IKEA Builds a Greener Superstore

The IKEA store in Vaughn, Toronto, practices environmental responsibility by utilizing a rehabilitated brownfield site near a public transit stop. By Paul Nutcher

The IKEA store in Vaughn, Toronto, practices environmental responsibility by utilizing a rehabilitated brownfield site near a public transit stop. By Paul Nutcher

The international furniture giant, The IKEA Group, sells approximately 11,000 different items in each of their stores. With a growing total of 178 stores in 31 countries, each location is filled with a variety of colors. However, the IKEA corporate philosophy can be best described by just one color -- green.

Most of the furniture sold inside an IKEA store is made from recyclable, biodegradable and easily renewable wood sources that are harvested from non-environmentally sensitive areas.

The IKEA environmental vision also encompasses policies and procedures regarding new store construction, where heavy emphasis is placed on the durability, sustainability, recyclability and environmental impact of the building materials.

The company's environmental plan resembles the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Program and begins with site selection. IKEA seeks Brownfield sites to rehabilitate, which benefits the environment while also placing stores in dense urban population areas. IKEA also prefers sites near a public transit stop.

The company recently completed a 340,000-square-foot superstore in Vaughn, their fourth store in the metropolitan Toronto area. All were built with a high degree of environmental sensitivity.

"We are taking a lot of green steps," said Haim Goldstein, IKEA's construction manager for the Vaughn project. "From the roofing system to the refrigerant used in the building's coolant system, we comply with regulations that are significantly more strict than local building codes."

For its Vaughn store, IKEA specified a number of environmental construction materials, including ACFoam-II insulation from Atlas Roofing Corp. (Atlanta), HVAC units and non-ozone depleting refrigerant from Aaon Inc. (Tulsa, Okla.) and non-wood display partitions from Faay Vianen in the Netherlands.

The Atlas insulation is HCFC-free, offers zero ozone depletion potential (ODP) and has no global warming potential while still retaining high R-values and offering superior fire performance.

Goldstein explained that recycled content was a major consideration when selecting insulation material. ACFoam-II contains between 17 and 68 percent recycled material by weight, depending on thickness, and the facers are made from 100 percent recycled material.

Atlas, an Energy Star member, is a pioneer in the manufacture of polyiso foam insulation. It was the first manufacturer to adopt the terms of the Montreal Protocol and subsequent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, years before they went into effect; and the company manufactures insulation products without the use of environmentally harmful blowing agents.

Matt Schofield, IKEA's Canadian Division construction manager, explained that there are specs for almost every building component, including the refrigerant used in the HVAC system.

"Our company only uses non-CFC refrigerants in its rooftop refrigeration units. It must be either R407C or R410A. Both are non-ozone depleting," he said.

The HVAC units and refrigerant for most IKEA stores in North America comes from Aaon. Aaon units are designed to not only have a reasonable first cost but also to maximize life expectancy, functionality, energy efficiency and maintainability while minimizing installation requirements.

Inside the new store, furniture is displayed in showrooms created from non-wood partitions. They are made from various grains that are unsuitable for feeding farm animals.

"They (the panels) come from a company called Faay Vianen in Holland, where there are few trees and they do not cut down the ones they have," Schofield said. "Unlike many of the green products we specify, these panels actually cost less than comparable wood products, so we actually save some money."

Faay's wall panels are made from flax waste and plaster board. Unlike trees, flax grows in abundance in the clay soil of the Netherlands. It is rapidly renewable and the plants are primarily used in textile and paper production. The waste is used by Faay to make wallboard.

Schofield noted that as saws cut through the paneling it "smelled like bread baking."

Environmental Practices

Each IKEA store has three compactors on site. Typically, one is used for non-recyclable trash, a second for cardboard and the third crushes plastic and sometimes metal.

"We separate it and try to find markets for the recyclable materials," Schofield said. "Our buildings have a fair amount of recyclable trash coming out the back end of them."

Similar to the LEED prerequisite, IKEA customers and employees find three garbage cans instead of one, so materials for recycling can be more efficiently sorted. Stores also collect and isolate florescent light tubes, which contain traces of mercury, to avoid the heavy metal from entering the waste stream.

Alternative energy is the latest area to receive scrutiny from IKEA management. A recently built store in Pittsburgh has solar panels on the roof that help produce the electricity that powers the lights. In Calgary, Canada, they purchase power from a private provider that utilizes wind generators.

In summer, temperatures at the Vaughn store can typically reach well into the 80-degree Fahrenheit range. In winter, the temperatures can plummet to an average of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. It was an engineering challenge to find insulation material thick enough to meet IKEA's high LTTR (Long Term Thermal Resistance) values yet strong enough to support the Aaon units on the roof.

The Atlas ACFoamII provides LTTR values as high as 25 with the 18 to 20 pounds per square inch of compression strength required to support the roof mounted heating and air conditions equipment, plus the added weight people who must occasionally work on the roof.

Atlas was the industry's first manufacturer to embrace the LTTR concept. LTTR is a measurement of thermal efficiency after a simulated 15-year life cycle, as opposed to R-Values, which measure insulation effectiveness at the time of installation. The Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) has recently adopted LTTR as its standard.

Although they each vastly differ in their customer base, marketing techniques and the products they sell, the IKEA Group, Atlas Roofing Corp., Faay Vianen and Aaon Inc. all share a common vision for sustainable construction, energy conservation and environmental responsibility.

This article has been reprinted courtesy of Environmental Design+Construction. It first appeared in the April 2004 issue of that publication.

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