Environmental Audit: IKEAs BILLY bookcase

By Kajsa Logan-MüllerSkärmavbild 2015-12-05 kl. 18.55.31 BILLY

A life cycle analysis

The BILLY bookcase from IKEA is one of the brands most popular pieces of furniture, that over the course of the past 36 years has been sold in over 41 million copies all over the world. To say that they are copies is a bit of a lie though, as the iconic piece has changed a bit since it first saw the light of day in 1979.

BILLY was designed by Gillis Lundgren, and since the beginning, the iconic bookshelf that can be found in homes all over the world has been manufactured in the same little factory in the south of Sweden, and in large by the exact same people.

A BILLY bookcase starts it life in the forests of Karelia, in western Russia, as well as in northern Sweden and a lot of other parts of the european forests. This wood is harvested by IKEA-owned Swewood, and although IKEA boasts a lot about their cooperation with both FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and WWF, research shows that Swewood cuts down staggering amounts of virgin forest in the Karelian area of Russia. IKEA still get endorsed by both FSC and WWF, but this might be a result of the fact that FSC Russia gets 25% of their earnings from IKEA, and last year WWF got a donation of 35 million SEK (about 5,5 million CAD) from them. In the IKEA sustainability report from 2014 however, they say that 41% of their wood is from sustainably sourced wood. If this means actual sustainably sourced wood or wood from the Karelian virgin forests is hard to know.

After being turned into particle board, using no formaldehyde or PVC, the chipboards are being sent to AB Gyllensvaans Möbler i Kättilstorp. a small community in the south of Sweden.

Kättilstorp karta

Here, the massive factory produces 25 000 Billy bookcases every single day, or one every four seconds.

When the particleboards arrive, they are being run through a machine that foils the board on both sides at once. Again, no formaldehyde or PVC is being used in the glue.

The next machine cuts the board into the right size. The excess material and sawdust either gets burned in the factory’s own heating furnace, or gets shipped to external heating plants.

As a way of trying to elongate the life of a BILLY, IKEA recently redesigned the shelves a tiny bit to be even sturdier.

The entire bookshelf is made on a single line, and no human hand ever touches the shelf until you as a customer unpacks it at home.

Because of the IKEA-flat packing system, packing and shipping the BILLY is very efficient. There’s not much air in each pack, as the backing of the shelf recently got redesigned, so it now folds in three parts, and means that the entire package is only as wide as the width of one of the side panels. Thanks to the flat packing, more BILLYs can be shipped in each truck, which of course saves both labor and fuel.

The cardboard that’s being used for the boxes are not bleached, and are fully recyclable. Now, even the pallets that BILLY and all other IKEA-furniture is shipped on are replaced from standard wooden pallets to ones made from cardboard, to make it easier to recycle, and removes the need for shipping them back from the stores to the factories.

From Kättilstorp, the bookcases are being transported with trucks (ca 35 trucks every day) to the train, where Green Cargo takes over, and ships the bookcases all over the world. The hopes is that this will save about 2800 kilos of CO2-emissions every year.

After being sold in one of the 315 stores around the globe, a BILLY is easy to disassemble and recycle. At least 50% of the product is made from wood fiber, and can be recycled.


Timle, Lina, Billy kommer från Skaraborg – Göteborgsposten, July 9th 2010


Löwenborg-Frick, Madeleine, BILLY, the world’s most versatile bookcase turns 30! – October 2009 (http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_CA/img/pdf/Billy_Anniv_en.pdf)

Karlsson, Anders, Green Cargo fördubblar tågfrakter för Ikea – October 6th 2015 (http://transportnet.se/nyheter/green-cargo-fordubblar-tagfrakter-for-ikea/)

IKEA Supply AG, The IWAY Standard – Minimum Requirements for Environment and Social & Working Conditions when Purchasing Products, Materials and Services. – 4th edition, June 4th 2008 (http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/about_ikea/pdf/SCGlobal_IWAYSTDVers4.pdf)

Uploaded by Joulun Ukko of youtube.com, Uppdrag Granskning, Den sista urskogen – Februari 14th 2014 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbnXXhVYP7o)

Product information on the BILLY bookcase from the IKEA website (http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/40279788/#/00263850)

IKEA Group Sustainability Report, FY14 (http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_CA/pdf/sustainability_report/sustainability_report_2014.pdf)


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