Flat pack design was developed for easy bulk and consumer transportation. Although environmental sustainability was not thoroughly considered back in the 1980s, the nature of flat pack design lends itself to low carbon emissions in transport and therefore a much smaller carbon footprint.

When it comes to bulk transport, I think it's pretty well known that flat pack furniture produces a much smaller carbon footprint than if the products were pre-assembled. But I always wondered... How much better is it really?

After searching the web and GSA library, I couldn't find any quantitative data to satisfy me with any answers. The only way I could truly see the impact of flat pack vs pre-assembled furniture was if I took a chapter out of Ben Craven's book and did the calculations myself!

Obviously, it's near impossible for me to get truly accurate results from using just online figures and resources but hopefully, the final result will give a rough idea of the impact flat pack furniture has on preserving our environment.


For these calculations, I chose to analyse the carbon emissions produced in the shipping of Ikea's Billy bookcase from Stockholm, Sweeden to Southampton, Uk. Billy was chosen as it's one of Ikea's best selling products since it was first introduced in 1979.

The values used and sources are highlighted below.

Unfortunately, my workings are a bit illegible. To show you how my head felt as I was crunching numbers I scanned in my working below. As you can see, it wasn't as straightforward as I thought....

The first few attempts using the data gave very inaccurate representations of carbon emissions. I, therefore, tried including the weight of the ship in the calculation and assumed the data was linear. After a very confusing and frustrating few hours, with some help from my math-genius flatmate, I managed to get some fairly accurate results.

As you can see, using the flat pack method saves around 83% of Co2 emissions in shipping. Assuming that Ikea have sold over 41m Billy Bookcases since 1979 (source:, if every bookcase was sold in the UK, the saving is nearly 50,000,000kg of Co2. This is equivalent to taking 9,804 cars off the road for a year (source:

Arguments could be made that all furniture should be manufactured locally, with even fewer carbon emissions being produced in transportation. In reality, this is not how the 21st-century world works. We have to face the fact that furniture will be produced in cheaper manufacturing economies with due to the consumer pressure for affordable furniture. Therefore, in the current market, flatpack is a sustainable solution.