By Marine Leclerc
As one of my 2019 goals is to read a book per month, I chose to go for a lifeless throw away from Tara Button. Chapter 2, Planned Obsolescence caught my attention.
I believe I had first heard of that term after the well-known Apple drama. Indeed, they apparently planned their iPhones’ death after a certain number of charges. Outrageous!
However, little did I know about that entire concept. Where did it come from? When did it start and why? How usual it is… so let me tell you a bit more about that problem and how you can fight it so it does not ruin the environment and allows us to adopt a sustainable attitude.
The Apple scandal
In 2018, France and Italy sued Apple for planned obsolescence. They allege that the multinational deliberately slows down some of its mobiles through software updates. In clear words: you do the update and your phone becomes very slow. Guess what? At this exact time, there would be a new iPhone release.
Apple answered by saying that they did slow iPhones with degraded batteries (through the update) to avoid shutdown problems. It would allow your older phone to survive all the new features. How nice of them…
The company alleged they never meant to reduce the lifetime value of their products. They had to pay a fine and did present public excuses. They also reduced the price of batteries so you can replace them.
I let you make your own opinion about if yes or no they do it for your own good or for profit… I do see it as planned obsolescence and that is just a well-known scandal among so many hidden ones. Indeed, planned obsolescence is everywhere.
What is planned obsolescence?
According to Tara Button, planned obsolescence happens when a company makes a product lifetime shorter than it could be.
It appeared in the 30s in the US. It was the Great Depression which means that the country was facing big economical struggle and overproduction. Some economists came up with a miracle solution at the time: planned obsolescence! Industrials just had to reduce the lifespan of the products, they would die earlier and people would have to replace them more frequently. This is how they turned the past generations into consumers and re-launched the economy.
And it still happens today. For instance, boilers used to last 23years in 1980 and are expected to last only 12 years by 2020. Outrageous, isn’t it?
How did we get there?
It did not happen overnight, and nobody said out loud: plan this phone’s death within two years. No!
Basically, the big bosses put pressure on engineers to reduce the production costs in order to increase their margins. Reducing costs clearly impacts the quality of the materials and the production itself. Do that every year and you end up with a much lower quality product that does not last as long as it could. Tadaaaaa double benefits for corporates: bigger margin and more purchase frequency!
How to fight it?
Tara Button gives many solutions in her book. I selected the ones that seemed the most relevant to me and that I think are the easiest to implement on a regular basis. It might seem common sense and you probably apply a few of them If you are a conscious customer. I invite you to read the book if you want to go deeper into details.
Read external Reviews
Going through those on various marketplaces such as Amazon is a good idea. Indeed, the brand has no control over those reviews, so they are not biased.
Believe it or not, in one of the companies I worked for in the past, we would only authorize the good reviews on our website. The others would be deleted in the website backend and never posted online. In that case, as a customer, you only see the good points and never the complains. I am sure some companies do not use that method for ethical reasons but be aware it is doable.
I trust marketplaces are more reliable as they publish all reviews.
Reading reviews on customers’ blog can be a good option too. Make sure they are authentic first and that the author shares his or her real opinion. If the post is sponsored, you can question it because the blogger received money to publish that content. Read a bit more about the blogger’s story and find out if you can trust his/her sponsored content. Some of them would never introduce their readers to brands they do not like, even if they are paid for it.
Read about company
On the company’s website, you can always find an “about us” page. It is always good to read that part and see if the brand values match yours. If they claim they do long lasting products and designs made to last, maybe it worth trying.
Share about your own experiences
If you are happy to read reviews online before making a purchase, consider the future buyers too. Your opinion is valuable and will help others choosing products.
Try to repair
Some products are easy to fix. I think about garments here. You can sew buttons for instance or bring your shoes to a shoemaker who will happily give a second life to your favorite boots.
If it’s beyond your abilities, take your object to a specialist who will know how to fix it. Take your laptop to the store. Say no to buying a new one if the fixing cost reaches even half the price of your device. By doing so, you give more money to big brands and you encourage them to keep lowering the quality of their products on purpose.
Don’t put price but quality as a priority
That sounds obvious but if you buy something for cheap, the chances are that the materials and components are cheap so not long lasting.
Expensive does not mean high quality either, unfortunately. I know a few medium range fashion brands that feature very poor quality. A few items of washing and the shape of your £60 T-shirt is not so pretty anymore.
So pay attention to details when you purchase something new. It’s easy for some products that you can touch while some others, more technical, deserve a bit more research.
Finally, accept to pay a little more for that extra quality you want. It might cost you a bit more now but will last. Therefore, you save some money in the long run.
I know it can be hard sometimes, with new phones for instance. Do I want to risk to repair one thing if a second one breaks just after? How about we start with trying to repair small things and see how that goes?
This guest post is written by Marine Leclerc, founder of Attitude Organic. If you like that post, you can read more on the blog and ethical marketplace here: Attitude Organic