Who Made My Bed?

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My book, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, offers evidence that many of us don't have a clue as to where a lot of our stuff comes from -- and that lots of us want to know. Sourcemap, a Web-based tool built by MIT's Media Lab, not only traces the supply chain of objects back to their maker, but estimates the amount of carbon consumed in the production of each component. 

For example, a Sultan Alsorp bed from IKEA breaks down to this: the particle board comes from Beijing, China, the plywood from Poland, the epoxy resin from Shanghai, the cotton fabric from Africa, the steel from Russia.  Pulling all these parts together is a mighty feat of energy consumption -- an estimated 247.42 kilos of carbon dioxide released -- that poses a serious challenge to IKEA's green image.  But, as Cheap makes painfully clear,  for IKEA -- as for all low-price retailers -- cost is always the number one priority.  And as Sourcemap makes powerfully clear, the real cost of this low price can be terrifyingly high.

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Ellen Ruppel Shell is a professor and science journalist who teaches at Boston University. She is the author most recently of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. More

Atlantic contributing editor Ellen Ruppel Shell teaches at Boston University, where she co-directs the Graduate Program in Science Journalism. She writes on science, medicine, the media, economics, and sometimes even sports and the arts, and tends to focus on the underlying cultural and societal implications. She is the author most recently of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.
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