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How Ikea Manipulated Me To Go Blue So They Can Be Green

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Hey let's face it: Ikea is the vortex of visual guilty pleasure. It is a giant blue Swedish whale with a tummy full of stuff we all don't really need but somehow we have to have.

Mr. Ikea is no dummy, bring decent design to the masses, and make us all feel like Philippe Stark sprinkled fairy design dust all over us and toss in a handful of very quirky random items here and there and boom you got a major global design movement.

I once heard that ten percent of Europeans were conceived in a bed from Ikea. I also read somewhere that the Ikea Catalog has a higher circulation than the Bible (over 191 million copies in 27 languages and 56 editions.) Wow, that is one hot burning success story, isn't it? And on top of all that, somehow we have been convinced that Ikea is some kind of retailing white knight; and truthfully on those trips when I just got to have a bag of 500 tea lights or a few $1.50 super cute plants for my desk or that awesome bookcase from their alluring and brilliant "As Is" department (also known as the best kept secret of Ikea) I kind of do in fact feel they are the white, shining knight in affordable design armor.

Let's be honest, fairy dust and all, a trip to Ikea is, of course, not without its "go postal" moments: the crowded parking lot, long lines at the checkout, the four-hour battle to assemble an (insert Ikea product here), and the possibility that among your purchases there will be something broken, or missing, requiring you to return to the store and go through the whole process again. We're all crazy, because despite all this, we keep going back for more.

Don't tell Mr. Ikea, but he had me at the front door. I don't even care if he takes all his funny named furniture out of the building, just don't touch my buns. That permeating smell of cinnamon buns is about the sickest, most awesome, addictive smell I have ever inhaled. I once considered driving the 17 miles south to Carson from my front door just to have one of those warm melty, frosting drippy, delicious morsels of pastry on a wintry afternoon. They're just that good, aren't they? Tell me how many of those are sold annually and I bet it competes with the "Malm" collection or the "Lack" shelving sales numbers.

I get my Ikea on about once a year. It's usually is pre-planned. Last Friday a friend and I headed out on the 405 freeways in Los Angeles (yes on a holiday weekend -- we love pain) and arrived well before noon. A very nice arrival time: not too early, not too late; ten whole potential hours to get our shop on if it came to that kind of marathon event.

Is it wrong that as we pull into the parking space, when I step out of the car, my heart starts pumping extra fast, my skin feels amazing and my toes get tingly and I feel like I I'm floating on a very special, pre-consumer product purchase high? It's true. This really happens and I know it's wrong in so many ways but secretly, I love the feeling.

As we slid into the "outdoor tent" (also known as Swedish appetizer), we zipped through and like a good shopper I really didn't want to fill up before entering the main course vortex, but I did find these very nice glass candle lanterns for a wonderful $1.99 each. We paid and waited, and waited. Finally, my friend Ian says to the clerk, "Could I please have a bag"?

Clerk: "Oh, we don't give out bags, they cost 5 cents each."

We replied in unison "What?"

Clerk: "We don't give bags away anymore. Sorry."

No expanded explanation, no back up thoughts just "So, do you want a bag?"

Well, kind of, yes, we do. Not so much that I really wanted a bag but more how was I going to carry 5 glass lanterns through my next course of Ikea shopping?

I can't decide if I was so delighted that Ikea was doing something positive for the environment or more pissed that the cashier told me the bags cost extra AFTER she already ran my credit card and gave me no other information as to who, what, where, when, and why. And I'll admit right here and now, I am so that person who wants the whole back story of each major decision taking place in any major corporate super store.

In order to get a bad for the environment, fill up the landfill bag, we go through the whole purchase / ring up process and get yet another paper receipt for our 2 @ .05 purchase. Seriously I have a receipt that states 10 cents total. Really, Ikea? This is how we're doing this?

As I enter phase two of shopping and meander through the store, I learn that in an effort to encourage shoppers to cut down on plastic bags by October 2008, Ikea is removing all plastic bags and going 'carrier neutral'. I can totally dig this. I support this. I am down with this Ikea.

By the time I arrive at the main check out counter, I am now an educated, happy, Ikea shopper and I am delighted to report the bottom line deal from the front lines to you.

No more free bags people! From now on, those clear Ikea bags will be 5 cents each. Which is already a pretty universal thing and we in the bright sparkly US of A are just the late to the ban-the-bag party. In China and Europe they have been charging for plastic bags for some time now as a means to be more eco conscious. People are okay with this. I am super delighted with this. By the way, all proceeds from the sales of Ikea's plastic bags go to American Forests to plant trees to restore forests and help reduce CO2 emission. Very nice.

And our white knight in shining armor has graciously offered you the consumer, the option to go reusable with the iconic IKEA blue bag for $.59 or use an alternative reusable bag that you will now bring with you. (And of course we'll all totally remember to bring those bags every visit right?)

This is all a dandy, bright and a shiny, nice, eco-friendly public relations plan if you just ignore the reality that these bags are actually made of polypropylene, are no less biodegradable than plastic bags.

And you can also feel terrific knowing that by opting to go blue when going green, you are also helping Mr. Ikea make a little side cash on that sweet giant iconic blue bag.

I do not have those numbers in my back pocket, but I have a little feeling that's a lot of cash if you consider how many of us roll into the big Swedish belly each year. The registered footfall, which is the number of visitors, for last year was more than 583 million, 60 percent of them women. Hello, me. 260 shops in 34 countries.

After all that internal research on my last visit, as I arrived at the check out with my bevy of goodies, I was so confused as to which was the best, least harmful option of the bag breakdown that under pressure of the line forming behind me, I found myself getting sucked into going blue.

As much as I want to believe that me and blue will make it back to the belly next trip, I have a feeling he will end up being used as a back of the closet storage unit, laundry schlepper or magazine holder, not necessarily guaranteeing him a return flight to the homeland.

Just that irresistible blend of global capitalism with populist thrift and eco-efficiency. And to think, I was just going to Ikea to grab some FANTASTISK'S and a BEKVÄM.

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