Nowadays, quite a few of our electric appliances and electronic devices come equipped with software that becomes obsolete after only two or three years of use, never mind the fact that their hardware components are impossible to replace. Their lifespan is a third of what it was 20 years ago. But the trend is currently being reversed as innovations and initiatives are pushing toward more sustainable consumption.
Obsolescence is technological in nature when the reduction of an object’s lifespan or usage is planned. This is illustrated by the fact that such objects are impossible to take apart and repair, and replacement parts are unavailable. Consumers have become accustomed to the fact that the products they buy have a limited lifespan. An ADEME study shows that, in France, only 44% of broken products are repaired. Obsolescence can also be commercial in nature. Consumers often succumb to the effects of advertising and are persuaded to abandon a product even before it fails. This tendency to overconsume has major consequences for resource use because it exhausts raw materials, consumes energy, and generates carbon dioxide.
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This trend toward obsolescence seems to be turning a corner, however, as the perception of consumption and waste changes. “Repair Cafés” are popping up all over the world, bringing together new converts who want to become self-sufficient and repair their own devices. Evenings are dedicated to learning how to fix a printer despite the fact that the salesman said nothing more could be done with it.
Some manufacturers also seem to be evolving toward designing more sustainable devices. One of the major contributing factors today can be found in the power of social networks, which are quick to stigmatize brands that sell products destined for early obsolescence. The Internet “democratizes sustainability,” according to François Marthaler, head of Why! Open Computing, which distributes sustainable computers supplied with illustrated repair manuals.
In response to the fact that seven billion bulbs are discarded each year throughout the world, Spain’s Benito Murros invented the IWOP bulb (“I Without OPsolescence”). More expensive than competing bulbs (34 euros), this ”forever” bulb is free of any “planned obsolescence.” It uses LED technology and can be repaired. This traditional light bulb is also very economical in terms of resource use, consuming only 3.5 watts but providing the light equivalent to a 90-100 watt bulb. By means of this symbolic innovation, Benito Murros is solidifying the struggle of the “Sin obsolescencia programada” movement he founded in Spain to combat planned obsolescence; a movement that has become a core principle of the circular economy and key element in the fight to preserve resources.