The grass is greener in Scandinavia. The air is cleaner too. As a result, Scandi people are the happiest people can possibly be on Earth. They have even created a name for this sense of bliss. It is called “Hygge,” a Norwegian term that became a synonym, indeed a brand for Denmark and then spread to the rest of Scandinavia and the rest of the world. Indeed, when I think of Scandinavia, hygge is the first thing that comes to my mind. I think of the Danes and grow wistful for a life of coziness, contentment and wellness that the Danish “brand” evokes. «Hygge is such an important part of being Danish that it is considered ‘a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA,’ according to Meik Wiking, author of the Little Book of Hygge and the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen,” (Countryliving.com).

Denmark of course if only one of the three countries that comprise Scandinavia – the other two being Norway and Sweden. Finland and Greenland are also sort of considered to be in Scandinavia although to a lesser degree than the three former countries. In all of these countries, however, there is this sense of “greenness” and “clean living” and “eco-friendliness” and “transparency” and “ethics” that permeates everything. I live in France and a lot of French people I know aspire to be more like the Scandinavians in this regard.  

This is why it seems almost paradoxical that two of the most polluting companies in the world are Scandinavian companies. These companies I speak of are IKEA and H&M.  Personally, I love both IKEA and H&M so I point this out reluctantly. I probably like IKEA a little bit more because it offers Swedish meatballs and I like to eat more than I like to shop for new clothes. But I do like shopping for new clothes like the next girl and I do enjoy spending money at H&M every chance I get.

Be that as it may, these two brands – one in fast fashion and the other in fast furniture – are not green brands. At least, not as  of this writing, as far as I can discern. They couldn’t possibly be green when they use so much of the world’s resources like water and cotton to create products that are built to be disposed of as quickly as possible to make way for new products. That is, neither IKEA nor H&M promote “slow living” in their business models because if they did it would have a devastating impact on their bottom lines which specifically depends on quick turnover of products and merchandise (most of which end up in landfills and some of which take hundreds of years to biodegrade) in order to maintain their competitive edge.

IKEA for example, which is based in the Netherlands even though it is a Swedish company, is the world’s largest furniture retailer of ready to assemble furniture and home goods such as kitchen ware, bathroom ware and bedding – among other things. IKEA uses an inordinate supply of the world’s natural resources like water and cotton on an annual basis to fill its humongous warehouses all over the world with inexpensive stuff that people buy, often impulsively, for their homes.

IKEA’s products are attractive, airy and light. They definitely evoke that sense of Scandinavian hygge with the coziness vibe. The company is known for its inviting in-store environment that keeps customers lingering, trying out, buying, eating and otherwise having a jolly relaxing time.  But the company has never promised, and consumers do not expect “durability” with IKEA products. It is a very transparent deal – what is being sold and what is being bought. Everyone in the transaction knows and agrees that these products are just for a time and when they get worn or broken, usually a new replacement is bought. This is all well and good. But even I must admit this is not sustainable.

IKEA has said that 71 percent of its products are made from recyclable materials and the company has said it remains committed to sustainability and to doing its part to keeping the planet healthy, and they have released a roadmap to show how they intend to make that happen, and good for IKEA that it recognizes its own responsibility to the planet. Still, they are quite a way off from achieving total eco-friendliness in their operations. Indeed, chances are, IKEA will never really be 100 percent environmentally “clean.”    

Like IKEA, H&M is huge. It is a fast fashion brand, second largest global clothing retailer – second only to Zara, a Spanish conglomerate (Wikipedia). Fast fashion is even more unforgiving on the environment than fast furniture to my way of thinking. The research is dense with reports of how so much of fast fashion ends up in landfills; how fast fashion depletes natural resources; how fast fashion contaminates the planet with chemicals, dyes and pesticides. In other words, fast fashion is not by any means hygge for the planet and does not promote “wellness” for the planet – at all. On the contrary, fast fashion and to a lesser extent fast furniture is making the planet very unwell.   

What is the point of this article? Well, it is not to excoriate either brand, or for that matter any of the other Scandi brands because as I said, I love both brands more than just a little bit. I personally cannot imagine a world without IKEA or H&M.  But it does strike me as ironic that stores with such a heavy carbon footprint could have come out of a place whose values seem to spouse the complete opposite.

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