“Planned Obsolescence” – Products Are Designed To Fail

In Clean Truth, Environment, Products, Sustainability, Waste Management
planned obsolescence

Virtually all manufacturers today build their “durable” white and brown goods with planned obsolescence. They are designed to fail instead of designed for the longest possible lifetime.

Concurrently, most now come with 1-year warranties, or longer warranties as a marketing gimmick, with some of the purchase price put aside by the bean counters for the inevitable failures.

The reason for all this is increased profit. When “durable” appliances fail, they have created repeat customers.

And in industries with high barriers to entry, you can build junk and your competition has little incentive not to do the same, because if they follow your lead they will also enhance their own profits.

This is a free market failure. Unlike the mythical belief, the free market is not sacrosanct.

The appliance itself may be made in America, Germany, Japan or any other country, but often still has low quality components because manufacturers don’t control supply chain, and so supplier can easily hide margin-increasing intentional defects.

And in this case, premature failure is a feature and not a bug, low quality plus planned obsolescence equals further enhanced profit.

The implications of planned obsolescence are hidden but substantial. The wasted labor in building appliance after appliance, over a person’s lifetime a half dozen or more of the same appliance will be needed to do the same job as one durable appliance.

This also means overflowing landfills from the materials that cannot be recycled, the wasted labor and energy for components that can be recycled but did not need to be.

The wasted energy and fossil fuels used in rebuilding unnecessary items over and over again, the high-Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerant released into the atmosphere repeatedly.

And all this for just one reason, enhancement of profits. So what should be done about this?

One tool is for governments to intervene. Governments have historically broken up monopolies and oligopolies in order to increase competition and lower prices for consumers.

Planned Obsolescence

Companies don’t like this because their golden goose is at stake, so they perpetuate propaganda about why it’s a bad idea, and today’s consumers typically fall for it.

Another option is to mandate strong warranties and durability requirements (for example 20-year warranty and 30-year <10% failure rate).

A third tool is to mandate the ability to repair appliances, that parts are made available for several decades and sold without obscene markups, and that repairs are technician-friendly to keep labor costs down.

Reference- BBC, Forbes, The Guardian, Wikipedia, Clean Technica, Green Peace

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