Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Durable Products

The two horsemen of the modern consumer apocalypse:
  1. functional obsolescence,
  2. fashion obsolescence.
Functional, or planned obsolescence is the purposeful decision by designers and manufacturers to ensure things don’t last, so that consumers must buy new ones.

Fashion obsolescence is the related decision to offer new features and aesthetic changes to entice consumers to discard their old items in favor of updated and supposedly better ones.

How do we combat these two horsemen?

One of the best ways to lower the quantity of energy required to manufacture and distribute consumer goods is to make those products not only durable, but repairable and upgradable. If products were more durable, some jobs lost due to the decrease in consumption would be offset by the addition of more highly skilled maintenance and repair jobs. (When was the last time you saw an appliance repair store?)

And the lost jobs would most probably be overseas, the repair jobs would be local.

The question, then, is what would it take to overcome our dependence on cheap goods?

Even though obsolescence is no longer a boon for this country’s manufacturers (since there are none to speak of), cheap products are essential for consumers who can barely afford to put food on the table. If a durable coffeemaker costs twice as much as a breakable one but lasts four times as long, it’s still less attractive to someone who doesn’t have the additional cash up front.

Ultimately, environmental and economic sustainability won’t be possible until we become less dependent on consumer spending, which normally comprises 70 percent of the U.S. economy--and is now headed up again.

We can’t just keep churning out, buying and disposing of stuff.

MyFootprint.org, where you can find out how many Earths would be necessary if everybody on the planet shared your lifestyle;

H20Conserve.org, where you can tally your water footprint;

Wattzon.com, where you can calculate the energy required to sustain your lifestyle.

Buy stuff that lasts!


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