While home furnishings behemoth IKEA has been up to a lot of interesting, positive stuff as of late — releasing a lovely PS collection, giving randy Chinese seniors a place to congregate, cracking down on inadvertently raunchy product names in new markets, etc. — the company’s wholly owned production subsidiary, Swedwood, continues to be plagued by controversy. Last year, it was allegations of awful working conditions at Swedwood’s sole U.S. production plant in Danville, Va. Now, according to a recently released report from the Global Forest Coalition, the sustainable forestry-minded company that’s long touted its love of wood is responsible for some rather irresponsible logging practices in a large swath of ancient forest in the Russian Karelia.
As detailed by the report, two different environmental groups, Sweden's Protect the Forest and Russia’s SPOK, conducted field surveys in the area and concluded that Swedwood is actively clear-cutting old-growth trees in an environmentally sensitive area of northwest Russia on the Finnish border that’s considered to be of “high conservation value.” Some of the trees in question range in age from 200- to 600-years-old. Ouch.
"During our field visits to Russian Karelia, we have documented the reality of IKEA's forestry, and it's a far cry from the fine words in their advertising," explains Protect the Forest chairman Viktor Säfve. Adds board member Linda Ellegaard Nordström: "This is nothing but a scandal!"
I sometimes forget that many IKEA products are actually made of wood and not glue, fairy dust, and magical lingonberry fiber. According to The Guardian roughly 60 percent of the furnishings found in IKEA stores across the world are made from wood of some form. To produce them, the company logs about 1,400 acres of forest annually.
Olga Ilina, head of the forest department at SPOK, the Karelia Regional Nature Conservancy, told IPS that only 10 percent of the ancient trees remain standing due in part to Swedwood’s logging activities. “We have a (limited) amount of old-growth forest in the north of Russian Karelia with high conservation value. IKEA says they don't operate in old-growth forests but it is not true.”
While IKEA hasn't exactly confuted the findings, the company is on the defense. A statement issue Swedwood and published by the Los Angeles Times reads: “Karelia is an area with high nature values and the decision to source wood in this area brings on great responsibility. We take that responsibility very seriously. We source with long term consideration and we want to make sure that the way we source helps protect biodiversity. In Karelia, IKEA has taken the lead to develop responsible forestry together with authorities, NGOs and local interests. This is paving the way for a more responsible forestry, in our lease and in Karelia as a whole.” (Click here to read the official response from IKEA forest manager Anders Hildeman).
Although Swedwood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, there’s been a whole lot of rather confusing back and forth about gaping holes in Russian FSC regulation that have allowed Swedewood to clear-cut old-growth forests under the banner of responsible forestry. FSC spokesperson Sasha Hughes tells the L.A. Times:
In Russia, as in many countries, the age of a tree or trees is not the single factor which determines whether a forest area is considered to have ‘high conservation value’ (HCVF, a term which was developed by FSC in 1999 to help define forest areas of outstanding and critical importance). The classification of HCVFs is highly dependent on the particular socio-cultural and ecological context. HCVFs are determined following a broad and inclusive stakeholder consultation process. In Russia, this was determined by a group of stakeholders which included Russian NGOs and an equal representation of environmental, economic and social interests.
Whatever the case, Protect the Forests is adamant that Swedwood has violated both international and Russian FSC standards and demands retribution. Protect the Forest has staged several large protests at stores in IKEA's motherland and issued a five-point petition urging Swedwood to stop logging old-growth forests (and to stop lying to customers). The group has also issued a series of photos documenting the destruction.
Protect the Forest board member Robert Svensson, the fellow who documented much of the clear-cutting in Karelia, explains the group's wishes in an official release:
We demand that IKEA ensure the protection of the remaining forests with high conservation value on the lands they lease. This is the least they can do to compensate for the losses of valuable forest and biodiversity that they have caused. There is already so little old-growth forest left that it threatens the long-term survival of many plant and animal species, so continuing to log such forests is deeply irresponsible.
Simone Lovera, executive director of the Global Forest Coalition, has Protect the Forest's back, announcing in a media release: “Whoever is responsible for this destruction, in this case the owners of IKEA and Swedwood, must be held responsible for the social and environmental costs of their companies’ actions. I suggest Protect the Forest and SPOK should consider all possible options, including legal action against IKEA, in order to correct the situation.”
Oy vey. Will these revelations — it's been a huge story in the international forestry industry — change the way you shop at IKEA and view their sustainability initiatives?
Logging photos: Robert Svensson/Protect the Forest