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IKEA is looking at bringing a program to Canada that would allow customers to trade furniture purchased from the furniture giant in exchange for store credit.FRED LUM/The Globe and Mail

IKEA is looking at bringing a "take back" program to Canada that would allow customers to trade furniture purchased from the Swedish furniture giant in exchange for store credit.

Under the initiative, mirrored after similar environmentally friendly initiatives in France and Belgium, the retailer would then resell the second-hand items or recycle them.

"If we can have an impact on people's lives at home, we could have a huge impact on the environment," said IKEA Canada president Stefan Sjostrand at the opening of a pickup and order location in Whitby, Ont.

Sjostrand was part of the team that helped bring the program to France, and says the same could be done in Canada, where IKEA operates 12 stores and three pickup and order locations.

He conceded, however, that the program could still be years away because Canadian stores don't have the capabilities to take back items now, even if only 10 per cent, or 2.7 million customers, returned their old furniture.

Last year, IKEA Canada had 25 million visitors in its stores and 75 million visits online.

The proposed initiative comes after Steve Howard, the head of sustainability at IKEA, told a conference in January that appetite for home furnishings in western countries has hit its "peak," prompting the world's largest furniture retailer to look at ways to encourage customers to repair and recycle IKEA products.

Sjostrand said IKEA already has recycling programs for plastics, paper, light bulbs and mattresses in place in Canada, and was also the first retailer in the country to phase out the sale of incandescent light bulbs in favour of the more energy-saving LED bulbs.

Although it's taking a more planet-friendly approach to commerce, Sjostrand said this won't slow down its plan to open 12 more full-size stores over the next decade in Canada. The next location was recently announced for Halifax.

For IKEA, bricks-and-mortar stores are still its largest sales driver, accounting for about 93 per cent of sales last year, with the rest coming from e-commerce. The company recorded $1.8-billion in sales in Canada in 2015.

In addition to its pickup and order points in Quebec City, London and Whitby, Ont., IKEA plans to open three more such shops in the Ontario cities of St. Catharines, Kitchener and Windsor.

The smaller locations allow customers to order items online and pick them up in the store for a flat fee of $20. Various popular items like towels, candles and pillows are also available in the stores for purchase. The stores are around 30,000 square feet versus the 270,000 square feet of a typical IKEA store.

Canada has the most IKEA pickup and order locations out of any country, with the others opened last year in Spain, Norway, Finland and the United Kingdom.

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