Resisting Ikea – preparing for Monday’s sustainability conference

I spent most of last weekend preparing for a sustainability conference that we ran on Monday (post about that event appearing shortly). I know from experience that the last few days of organising any event like this always involve a mad dash to the shops, and this time was no different.


But the theme of this conference was how to teach civil engineering students about sustainability, and an important part of the day was to show lecturers how very simple props can be used to provoke an emotional as well as a cognitive response to issues such as resource scarcity. For example, we planned to suspend a piece of paper over a bucket containing ten litres of water – the volume used to make a single sheet. So given the circumstances, my original plan, which involved hiring a Streetvan and driving to Ikea to buy the necessary props, seemed ludicrous.

The advantage, of course, of heading straight to that purveyor of curiously named Swedish flat-pack goods is convenience. My first thought was that I simply didn’t have the time to shop around for alternative sources, but a quick search online showed that most of what I needed was available fairly locally.

The forty mugs and three tea pots  that I needed  I found in bright colours at the Reject Pot Shop on Chalk Farm Road, an emporium of reject crockery. The bookcase came from a warehouse in Tottenham packed to the roof beams with second-hand office furniture – I know where to go next time. Driving home I found all the other bits of construction material that I needed lying on the street. We borrowed other pieces of furniture from a local colleague, which meant I got to drop round and see their snazzy solar-thermal water heaters on their roof.

Shopping for other bits took us up Blackstock Road and then on to the Transition Finsbury ‘Well Oiled‘ festival in Finsbury Park. There I ran into Astrid, someone I know from swing dancing who has set up a business making strudels from Dalston apples. She agreed to make enough strudel for our conference, which meant that on Sunday evening I was cycling up Kingsland Road with three strudels precariously balanced on pannier rack. (Her business is called Waffle Kafaffle – but when I tried searching for it online all I got was waffle falafel which is less appealing).

In the end, while few of the delegates will have known what efforts we went to to source the materials for the conference in a responsible way, I had a really enjoyable weekend scooting round looking for this stuff. Sure it took longer this way – but not that much longer – and I have found out about some great places to buy second-hand stuff, and a source for delicious strudel.