Planned Obsolescence: A Strike against the Environment

Hate it, I do, when a product fails before I believe it should. I have ranted about such products here before and I stand by my rants. Specifically you see products fail mere months after the warranty has expired, seemingly on queue for you to purchase yet another replacement. The old one goes into the garbage and then landfill, and the environment takes an unnecessary penalty for our stupidity. Clearly this should not be. I purposely buy products that last a long time, if I can, and take measures to ensure they do last.

How did this series of events come to pass? I like to look at such circumstances as a closed system. Businesses manufacture cheap products with planned obsolescence because they clearly outsell ones that are made to last. If this was not the case their sales would decrease and they would be forced to change or go out of business. Therefore there is a great demand for products that have planned obsolescence. Why is there a demand?

Consumer Products are no longer repaired: All products, both good and bad, will require repair sooner or later. Better products have a longer mean time between failure, but will eventually require repair. Products run better and longer with regular maintenance. This is a problem with our society.

In Canada, and specifically Toronto where I live, very few people retain the skills to repair anything. This goes for any consumer product such as shoes, to clothing, to appliances, to parts of your house. Do you know anyone that can repair household items? There were certainly, in the past, people who were knowledgeable in the art of repairing things. This is not only old school but ancient.

Do you know anyone who can repair things? I am one of the rare breed of people who does repair my own items. I know I am rare because it is rare indeed to meet another person who knows a thing or two about any kind of repair. When I talk with others they are at marvel that I even attempt to fix stuff. This should not be.

Consumer Products are not Built to be Repaired: In the absence of repairing products yourself or finding repair people there is only the option of the throw away society: When it breaks throw it out and buy a replacement. This is just so wasteful and wrong. Am I the only one that swims against the tide?

When I repair products I take them apart. I can see how it is made, and if there was quality built into the product. Very often you can only see this quality from the inside, as all products look pretty impressive from the outside. It is this inside view that often makes me very angry, and where I see blatantly shoddy workmanship and lack of attention or care for detail. If you do not repair your products you cannot see if they are quality products from the inside. If you do not repair your products but have them repaired by someone else, the repair person will tell you if it is worthwhile to fix it or if it is garbage. If you repair or have someone else repair your product your pocketbook will tell you the true cost: a well designed and repairable product will cost less to fix than a low quality non-repairable product, which will need to be replaced.

When most people do not repair products there is no feedback as to if a product is repairable and if the product is of high quality. Consumers cannot differentiate between a repairable high quality product from one that looks nice but is not repairable. All products, therefore look very similar. Consumers put little benefit to those products that can be repaired, and therefore, naturally ware unwilling to pay more for a product that is repairable. Price and aesthetics take precedence over better quality.

The Downward Spiral for the Lowest Price: Without a consumer mentality to repair products and an emphasis on price and aesthetics, comparable looking products seem indistinguishable. It is only natural that the lowest price would be more desirable. With consumers voting to purchase products with the lowest price there is no reason for companies to make products of higher quality.

Companies that strive for higher quality will go bankrupt unless they can connect with consumers that repair products and see value in products that are repairable.

Conclusion: We get newer and nicer looking products, but not necessarily better functioning of long lasting. Planned obsolescence is a marketing and development strategy that works for companies because without it they would go bankrupt. There is no reason to make better quality products because consumers cannot identify better products and are unwilling to pay more for better products.

Planned obsolescence is not a strategy as such but a reaction to the needs of their consumers. We all say we want better products but are unwilling to pay for them when we see them. Only a change in consumer behaviour will elicit a change in the products we see on our shelves. We, as consumers, get what we demand.

My personal philosophy is to buy products that are well built and last a long time. I expect products to require maintenance and repair and I do these repairs. When I open up a product for repair I expect to see quality. Products should be repairable. While I do appreciate newness and aesthetics I opt for a mix of classic style and high quality. New is most often not functionally better.

I have often cried for Mother Nature as I see her resources so blatantly squandered. I also show concern for the average consumer because they were cheated of their hard earned money, until I remember that most people do not repair anything. Does my neighbour deserve to be cheated because of their ignorance? Planned obsolescence wastes natural resources, and cheats consumers of their money. Companies earn short-term profits but consumers are wise to companies that have cheated them in the past. Most are unwilling to repurchase a shoddy product for a repeat performance, and do you blame them? Maybe. I would like to think that companies also do not benefit from producing shoddy products.

This brings us back to China, a country that produces the vast majority of current consumer products. Most of these products are of inferior quality. International companies that used to make high quality products have offshored their products to China and have joined the ranks of the low price producers. Consumers are becoming more and more wary of products made in China, and rightly so. Of course there are high quality products made in China but they are difficult to find in a sea of “Made in China” trash. Can we blame consumers of these products? Maybe.

Apple Store vs. Repair Shop: What the Right to Repair Is All About | WSJ

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