Is planned obsolescence becoming obsolete?
Planned obsolescence was adopted as a mean to ensure perpetual demand for industrial production. By conceiving products in a way that makes them last only for a planned or shortened period of time, the phenomena created what some call an upgrade society, in which “objects are disregarded whenever a better model is available”.
- What about now?
If planned obsolescence seems to have become a social habit integrated in the minds of every teenager, some industrials realise that consumers are becoming more and more attentive to the environmental impact of the product they are buying.
- Towards a design for the environment.
Various engineering projects have shown that work is being done towards more sustainable designs. Industries are also starting to reorganise their production in a way that “closes the loop in a product’s life cycle” (whereby the waste becomes a reusable material for the product to come; e.g.: Cradle to Cradle).
- A few examples are worth looking at:
On the computer market, Compaq came out with an eco-friendly computer designed so that components are not fixed and so easily replaceable if broken. The company also launched a “take back program” in order to ensure the recycling of its products.
In the outdoor industry, Teko socks (“the best socks on the planet and for the planet”) recently used a very durable fibre called EVAPOR 8, 100% made out of post consumer materials. Raidlight also launched its first running shoes and opted for a durable outlook in which the used parts of the shoe can be replaced.
Last but not least, Ebay and Patagonia have signed a partnership to reduce their consumption of products. Patagonia has here a great opportunity to expand its existing Common Threads Recycling initiative. Adding to its commitment to reduce consumption, repair clothing and recycle materials, the entreprise is now encouraging its customers to resell used Patagonia’s items.
- Quality vs. quantity
Planned obsolescence is however still on the ring. Socially assimilated in a “waste generation”, progress towards responsible behaviour is still to be done. The potential behind the expansion of a product service system is great (e.g.: www.unep.fr). The development of a function-based approach, which encourages the selling (or buying) of the utility of products over the selling (or buying) of products would be a big step towards dematerialised consumption patterns.