Sustainable design: IKEA Democratic Design Days 2019

in sustainable design

Like every year around this period, IKEA has shared new collaborations and plans for the upcoming future during its Democratic Design Days, a two days’ event taking place in Älmhult headquarters.

Lately, sustainability has been high on IKEA’s agenda and that's not just in theory. IKEA is practically experimenting with more sustainable design practices and leading the way towards a circular economy model.

Democratic Design Days 2019 have been particularly focused on:

  • Circular design
  • Indoor air pollution
  • Sustainable living

Circular design as the way to go

IKEA is experimenting a lot with circular design. This results in upcycling waste materials into new products, but also in finding ways to produce less trash to begin with.


Sea plastic pollution is a massive problem that requires a combined solution. One of IKEA’s contributions to the matter is MUSSELBLOMMA (opened in a new window/tab), a sustainable collection including a bag, two cushion covers and a tablecloth.

These pieces are made of polyester fabric obtained entirely out of recycled plastic. A part of this plastic is PET waste that was floating in the Mediterranean Sea and was caught in fishermen nets. The pattern is also inspired by the sea with its green & coral geometric forms and the stylized shape of a fish.
The MUSSELBLOMMA collection is entirely produced in Spain and will be launched in Italy and Spain in autumn 2019.

IKEA has also announced that – for every kilo of PET waste used to make the polyester fabric – another 9 kilos of waste will be taken out of the sea. Great news!

But IKEA’s commitment to clean the ocean doesn’t stop here…

A tote bag and a tablecloth from IKEA's MUSSELBLOMMA collection.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
IKEA's MUSSELBLOMMA collection. Credit: IKEA (opened in a new window/tab)

World Surf League

During Democratic Design Days 2019, IKEA has unveiled an interesting partnership with WSL (World Surf League) (opened in a new window/tab), intended at saving the oceans.

The idea is to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans by upcycling the existing plastic waste while inspiring others to do the same.
Together, IKEA and WSL will also explore surfers’ lifestyle and design a range of products for them – always using upcycled plastic waste.

A surfer on the beach.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: IKEA (opened in a new window/tab)

For what concerns plastic, IKEA has also announced that – by 2020 – all single-use plastic products will be removed and all virgin polyester will be replaced with recycled one (opened in a new window/tab). This fits into a broader and very ambitious objective for IKEA: embracing a circular design model and using only renewable or recycled materials by 2030!

Tackling indoor air pollution

The air of indoor spaces is way more polluted than we tend to think. And often, it is more polluted than the outdoor one!

Opening the windows regularly to let the air circulate is the number one strategy to lower indoor air pollution levels.
But what is IKEA doing to improve indoor air quality?


Northern India is one of the places in the world with the worst air pollution rates. One of the biggest causes is the burning of rice straw – a waste residue of rice harvesting.
Looked through the lenses of circular design, waste is a resource and rice straw is no exception. IKEA has started experimenting, discovering that rice straw is a versatile material that can be twisted into a fibre or transformed into a mouldable pulp.

The first result of these experiments has been announced during Democratic Design Days 2019.
FÖRÄNDRING (opened in a new window/tab) (which means change in Swedish), is a collection of textiles, baskets and other homeware made out of waste rice straw!

The best thing about this collection – that will be launched in autumn 2019 – is that it is actually tackling two problems in one.
First, it’s an example of circular design and waste upcycling.
Second, it is contributing to cleaning the air by preventing rice straw from being burned!

A man holding a handful of rice straw.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: IKEA (opened in a new window/tab)
Rugs, boxes, baskets and lampshades from IKEA's FÖRÄNDRING_collection.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
IKEA's FÖRÄNDRING collection. Credit: IKEA (opened in a new window/tab)


The pollution of outdoor air is only one of the causes of indoor air pollution. Combustion fumes, cleaning products and materials are guilty of releasing harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the air.

To address this problem, IKEA is working on textiles that actually clean the air! Thanks to a mineral-based treatment, these fabrics will be able to break down air pollutants once hit by light, mimicking what plants do with photosynthesis.
The first product that uses this new textile is GUNRID (opened in a new window/tab), a white timeless curtain that will be launched in 2020. But more air-cleaning textiles will come in the future!

IKEA GUNRID white curtains on a large window.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: IKEA (opened in a new window/tab)

Sustainable living solutions

Sustainable living means – among the rest – using resources mindfully. IKEA is tackling energy and food in particular, working on some very interesting solutions!


Sustainable design can also serve deep social purposes. At Democratic Design Days 2018, IKEA had announced a collaboration with Little Sun, a German social business whose mission is bringing light to people that live without electricity.
This year, they have presented the first prototypes, that will hit the stores in 2021.

Sustainable design principles will be at the heart of the SAMMANLÄNKAD (opened in a new window/tab) collection and all products will be powered by solar energy.
This will bring light to areas of the world where there is no electricity. But also give everyone else a chance to live a more sustainable life every day, by consuming less electricity and potentially even going off the grid!

"We want to connect the world by sharing the power of the sun in order to promote a sustainable lifestyle. The collaboration with IKEA is a huge opportunity to raise awareness for energy access and the urgent need for global solutions, while at the same time working with world-leading product designers"
Cit. Olafur Eliasson, founder of Little Sun

A sun-powered pendant light from IKEA's SAMMANLÄNKAD collection.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
A sun-powered table light from IKEA's SAMMANLÄNKAD collection.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Prototypes for IKEA's SAMMANLÄNKAD collection. Credits: IKEA (opened in a new window/tab)


Last year, IKEA had announced a collaboration with Altered to produce MISTELN (opened in a new window/tab), a water-saving nozzle.
The release date was planned to be August 2019, but they recently shared they’re facing some challenges. Therefore, we'll have to wait for 2020 to see MISTELN in the stores. But having a water nozzle that adapts to almost all taps in the world & costs less than 5 euros is worth the wait, isn’t it?

One part of IKEA's MISTELN nozzle.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
A component of IKEA's MISTELN nozzle. Credit: IKEA (opened in a new window/tab)


Food supply is another issue in our times and growing food at home would be both cost-effective and good for the planet (allowing considerable transportation savings). Actually, growing at least some food at home may become essential in the future given the latest growth population forecasts!

IKEA has partnered with Tom Dixon to develop a sustainable design solution that will make growing food at home affordable, desirable and easy.

“We’re assaulted every day by headlines that hint the destruction of the natural world, and I think that everybody needs to make steps to put nurture in that natural world… without plants we are nothing!
Cit. Tom Dixon

The first challenge is that today we’re just not used to the idea of growing our own food. That's why this collaboration has started with an awareness-raising event.
As part of Chelsea Flower Show, Tom Dixon has designed Gardening will Save the World: a conceptual garden to show how plants could be grown in the urban environment. On the top floor was a garden with an endless list of edible and medicinal plants (opened in a new window/tab). And underneath was a modular growing system featuring high-tech farming technologies like LED lighting, robots and hydroponic systems.

A rendering of the concept garden.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Tom Dixon's conceptual garden. Credit: IKEA (opened in a new window/tab)

Back to home solutions, Tom Dixon has designed stackable planters that – fitting in the tightest spaces – make growing food achievable for everybody.

The stackable planters designed by Tom Dixon for IKEA.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Planters by Tom Dixon for IKEA. Credit: IKEA (opened in a new window/tab)

I'm really happy to see IKEA involved in sustainability and circular design. We need big companies to start walking along this path, as this is the only way this will become the norm in the future!

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