Our homes have become a reflection of our identities, but also of our circumstances. It is a privilege to have a space where you can feel safe and protected. The world of sustainable living has expanded drastically in the last few years, but it often has remained focused on an opportunity around product purchases. Work in sustainability, including the home space, has understandably focused on the damage humans have caused to the environment. With the solution often relying on consumers needing to make more ethical behavioural decisions. However, there is risk in merely framing sustainability narrowly as environmental. Humans and nature do not operate separately, and recognising the entangled reality of the relationship allows space for nuanced understanding of the concept of sustainability. The environmental damage intertwines with a social threat to humans and livelihoods. Much of the world has been sharply impacted by the housing and cost of living crises. Just within the UK, nearly 95,000 households are residing in temporary accommodation. There’s a need for businesses to acknowledge the truth of this reality when doing work around sustainable living.
In an effort to raise awareness of homelessness in a sensitive and informed manner, IKEA has partnered with the housing charity, Shelter, to create room displays more reflective of real lives. ‘Real Life Roomsets’ are displayed throughout select IKEA stores in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol and represent the reality of living quarters for homeless families. The displays were designed in consultation with community members living in temporary accommodation including emergency hostels, B&Bs, one-room bedsits and cramped flats.
Most of us have found ourselves at some point making our ways through an IKEA store, our minds dreaming as we wander around the corridors of new possibilities. So it was a surprise to see tucked away in a corner of the Hammersmith store a partnership display which was a far cry from a usual aspirational IKEA set. Stained walls, peeling wallpaper, dampness, and close proximity between bathroom, kitchen and mattresses. The room set had been authentically created based on family’s real-life situations specific to the local experiences for each store. Customers are given something to reflect on as they embark on the rest of their journey.
IKEA released the following statistics to highlight the number of people experiencing homelessness:
- In London, 1 in 58 people
- In Manchester, 1 in 74 people
- In Birmingham, 1 in 80 people
- In Bristol, 1 in 183 people
The IKEA x Shelter partnership was announced last year, calling for 90,000 social homes to be built every year in an effort to tackle the housing emergency. The key objective is to provide access to housing for half a million people by 2030. Drawing in these different perspectives and expertise allows for new ways of thinking.
This example, like many other cross sector partnerships, can be productive catalysts for social and environmental change. Living conditions for so many are unsafe and unsustainable. Collaboration can be a powerful accelerator of progress in sustainability, particularly when it comes to delivering large scale social impact. It is #17 of the Sustainable Development Goals and arguably an essential ingredient in achieving many of the other SDGs. Progress is never achieved on one’s own. Putting the theories of diverse thinking to practice could unlock the scope and scale of the work we do for the home.