The planned obsolescence

Monday, 09 November 2020

The planned obsolescence

Who has never nostalgic about playing a good old vinyl in his grandmother’s player or even playing on an older generation of games consoles? If you can still do it today, it is thanks to the good component that manufactures put back at the time because they were no point for them to make their product die early. That would bring them a bad image and reputation. However, since 1950 a new economic concept has proposed to increase consumption by knowing in advance when a product should be dead in order to already have a new one ready. Today, this concept is rising a lot of ethical and ecological questions.

The planned obsolescence, what is it?

From a legal point of view, it is “the set of techniques by which a marketer aims to reduce the life of a product on purpose to increase its replacement rate”. Since 2015, the law considers any kind of planned obsolescence as a crime.

The technical obsolescence:

It is the case when your laptop or smartphone has an issue on one of its component and that this one is unfixable, so you have to buy a new one.

The esthetics obsolescence:

It is when a product is praised as the best on the market and is replaced really fast by a new one on the market. We call that the un-trending effect. The customers think that it is important for him to get all the product in order for him to not be outdated.

The software obsolescence:

This kind of obsolescence happen when an update put the older version unusable. Due to this the consumer might have to change his hardware in order to be able to use the new update.

Is there any interest?

The 1932 theory, written by Bernard London tells us that planned obsolescence is stressing a declining economy. Our economical model is based on growth, and this growth is reached by production and consumption. In our case more consumption in order to produce more and therefore hire more people.

Overconsumption is where troubles start because this brings an abundance of jobs on the market. As products must die fast to trigger the consumption of the next one. By saying that we can say that it is in the interest of saving our economy that planned obsolescence exists.

Unfortunately, the consequences of this growth technique are disastrous. Ecologically the impact is enormous. Our high-tech products require quantities of precious raw materials and a large amount of energy to extract them, transport them and transform them into smartphones, tablets or computers.

By intensively exploiting our resources, we cause climate change, the destruction of fertile land and the biodiversity that was there. 

Consuming more generates more waste, a lot of waste! 573 kg per person per year! And it continues to increase giving birth to what we call the 6th continent. This is the dark side of planned obsolescence.

Sadly, on top of that, it leads to production relocation where the working conditions are difficult and sometimes bad. Conflicts between countries for wealth control are a serious consequence of overconsumption.

In developed countries, modest households are suffering due to a loss of purchasing power by buying poor quality goods that will have to be replaced quickly. The frustration created by this produce one of the great diseases of our modern society.

Changing things is possible

Beyond the laws that make planned obsolescence a crime, there are techniques that will limit its consequences. Each of us can act and think eco-responsible on our own scale. Consumers and businesses can take actions and offer solutions that will tend towards more qualitative consumption.

As a consumer, think long term. Think about the real benefits that you will get from ot. Focus on quality over quantity while choosing a fixable items. Some brands build products in such a way that it is not possible to make any repairs. Take the time to learn about products labeled products.

Companies have to integrate eco-responsible values and set up new work habits. Sustainability must be a core value, not only for what they sell but also in what they buy and use.

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