Four years in the planning, Ikea Greenwich opened last weekend as the company’s first “sustainable store” in the UK. A pilot ran in Germany, but the Swedish behemoth, the world’s largest homewares retailer, chose SE10 for its new dawn.
Billed as taking sustainability to the next level, it opened with a BREEED 'excellent' accreditation for green technologies for its use of solar panels, rainwater harvesting, renewable construction materials and geothermal heating systems. So far so good. After all, when Ikea – a company said to be the world’s largest consumer of wood – decides to put its responsibility to the environment front and centre, it can only be applauded. My shopping experience, however, was less than ideal. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone on opening weekend expecting to buy plants, mirrors, cushions, rugs, all car-free. I came away at the end of it having had a free drink of water but empty-handed.
Firstly, here are the things Ikea got right. All 500 of its staff are asked to arrive by public transport and the majority have been recruited locally. The in-store roomsets reflect the lifestyle of the surrounding compact new-builds, such as cute furnishings for bijoux balconies and clever, stylish storage. There’s a roof terrace for customers and community gardening, and a Learning Lab that hosts a programme of upcycling workshops and hands-on DIY sessions on how to handle a drill and the like. The ambition of the company is to have a closed loop of production by 2030, whereby all raw materials will be sustainably sourced and everything they produce can be reused or recycled. Ikea says that as a company it has not sent anything to landfill for the past three years. The juggernaut does appear to be turning.
Ikea’s Greenwich store promised to be a space where customers could “meet, share, learn and shop”, but it was shopping that was on everyone’s mind that Sunday. This is how I had imagined I’d be shopping in this brave new world. I would arrive on the bus, have the most marvellous time touching, squeezing and stroking the eye-catching product displays, scan the product codes into the Ikea app, negating the need to lug any of it around the store with me, then I’d pay digitally, organise a convenient delivery time with the ‘home delivery’ desk and I’d hop back on the bus.
The reality went like this. The 188, billed as one of the 50 buses an hour that stop outside the store, only went to the Blackwall Tunnel road, which meant I had to trudge through the confusing, bleak landscape of North Greenwich (a familiar experience if you’ve ever taken the Jubilee line to Ikea Wembley).
When I finally arrived, it was so busy, I couldn’t enjoy squeezing and prodding. Instead I was pushed along by a slowly snaking crowd.
“You need to get a trolley,” said one of the assistants. Are you kidding? Even if I did manage to navigate it through the crowds, the queues for the tills were horrendous. I went to get some sustenance instead, but the Food Market shelves were bare. I must have counted 200 people queueing for meatballs by mid-afternoon.
The idea behind an eco, city centre store was that most customers would arrive, as Ikea encourages on its website, by ‘bus, train, bike or hike.’ Part of its planning permissions even saw it contribute a sum towards supporting local transport infrastructure. In the event, the traffic was so bad that local residents started a Change.org petition asking Greenwich Council to declare a climate emergency.
That’s because, for all its eco-credentials, it still has a in-store home delivery policy that only includes bulky items – like sofas and wardrobes –and ‘small boxes’. If you want to stock up on accessories, you’ll have to carry it home on the Tube or drive. Though there’s a home delivery discount at Ikea Greenwich, it’s only available until April. A spokesman told me it was the only blue box not to have a ‘home delivery’ desk, relying on customers to order directly with a member of staff on the shop floor.
Though Ikea Greenwich’s aims are admirable, it didn’t deliver for me.
Ikea Greenwich, Millennium Leisure Park East, London SE10 (ikea.com)