Programmed obsolescence what is it and how does it impact your market? – WAU
Scheduled obsolescence is not recent, but it is growing rampant and can impact your business in many ways, most of the time, negatively. It is a reflection of a society that knows how to produce, but does not know what to do with what it produces. Understand more below!
Many have heard, by older people, that objects used to have much greater durability in the past. Scheduled obsolescence has a lot to do with it.
They probably already lived at a time when planned obsolescence already existed, but not as strongly as it is today. Brake-free consumerism is making programmed obsolescence ever stronger and the life cycle of objects appears to drop further with each generation of new releases.
On the other hand, programmed obsolescence itself is increasing consumerism, resulting in a vicious cycle that seems to have no end. Fortunately, people who do not agree with this practice have come together and some initiatives are already being taken to avoid the practice.
Find out more about scheduled obsolescence, covering the points:
What is scheduled obsolescence?
Scheduled obsolescence is the deliberate action to create, produce and offer to the market a product that has a shorter life cycle than it could have, in order to force consumers to always be purchasing new products.
These products could very well still be used for a few months or for a few years, but, due to interference from the manufacturers, they stop working before the period that would be considered normal for their useful life.
It is as if they have become disposable, which is not true. Quite the contrary, as they are devices that often, because they are electronic, have technologies stored in their hardware and, therefore, are pollutants if stored improperly.
How is it possible that products used to last longer, while today they seem to be increasingly fragile?
The digital transformation, which seeks to use technology to improve performance and reach to guarantee better results, seems to intervene in this task, because when manufacturing products with new technologies, they end up making those of previous generations outdated.
What’s more, investing in ways to prevent scheduled obsolescence appears to be an investment that will not pay off, as the monthly sales volume and factory revenue will inevitably fall.
How does programmed obsolescence work in practice?
For those who believe that planned obsolescence is something very recent, a story that fully exemplifies what it means is in a product launched in the distant 1900s.
The call Centennial Lamp, which has been on since 1901 and has been off for just a week, works today, uninterrupted. Despite having some changes in its structure and in the materials used, it is evident that at that time the manufactured products had greater durability, despite the less advanced technology.
At that time, due to the fact that electricity is a technology that still had the mistrust of the population, having lamps that burned quickly was out of the question. It was necessary to invest in their durability.
The acceptance of the majority of the population changed everything in the 1920s, in the well-known episode of the Phoebus cartel. All companies that produced lamps came together to purposely shorten their lifespan for 1000 hours.
Further details on this case can be found in the book by Giles Slade, called “Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America”, which has not yet been translated into London.
According to a study published in 2016 by the German Environment Agency, the percentage of household appliances that had some kind of defect, and had to be replaced in less than 5 years of use, increased from 3.5% in 2004 to 8.3% in 2014.
In the same study, a third of the interviewed consumers answered that they are not satisfied with the useful life of their home appliances.
Types of programmed obsolescence
Currently, the ways in which companies possibly make scheduled obsolescence can be:
- functional: a documentary called Light Bulb Conspiracy shows the case of a defective printer for no apparent reason, whose reason discovered by its owner was a chip implanted to cause a failure that prevented it from continuing to print;
- operational: operating systems that update and old devices do not support such an update or the other way around, when operating systems that stop being updated require the purchase of a new device;
- mechanical: some electronics, mainly some brands of printers, after a while they start issuing a warning for mandatory parts replacement due to problems, when in fact they are still in full operation;
- restorative: who has never broken the screen of a cell phone and checked what comes out most important: buy a new one or renovate the old one.
What are the consequences of planned obsolescence?
The main consequence of planned obsolescence is the impact on the pocket of consumers and governments, who need to deal with a cause that is already becoming humanitarian.
To have an idea, according to Benito Muros, president of Feniss (Fundación Energía para la Innovación Sostenible Sin Obsolescencia Programada), a Spanish organization focused on the subject, it is estimated that products with programmed obsolescence generate loss of 40 to 50 thousand euros for a person during his life.
Benito also states that 99% of the products have planned obsolescence and that some products that could last 50 years no longer work for 2 to 12 years.
Unrestrained consumerism is already causing serious social and environmental problems. First world countries send their electronic waste, known as e-waste, to underdeveloped countries.
Ghana is the main country that receives this rubble, creating a clandestine market for selling these products to Africans, as well as bringing pollution and disease to Ghanaians. Cancer rates among children and lead contamination are high among workers who deal directly with the burning of e-waste.
In addition, heavy metals (lead, aluminum and copper) are contaminated in the air, soil and water in the Ghanaian region of Agbogbloshie, known as the “dump of the world”. But the worst of all was the detection of these same metals in breast milk from the mothers of Ghana
Every year, it is estimated that 129 thousand tons of garbage coming from Europe and the United States arrive in this region only, but the total would be 215 thousand tons of garbage arriving in the African country.
How does planned obsolescence interfere with the market?
Although scheduled obsolescence is proven by several facts, the official version of the companies is that it doesn’t exist and it’s just a conspiracy theory.
For some, whether or not they exist, planned obsolescence does not interfere with consumerism and people’s desire to always be with the most modern devices on the market.
Advertising ends up being responsible for a part of inconsequential consumption, which makes some people buy more updated products in a short time and without need, making objects with little time of use obsolete.
On the other hand, the need to create increasingly modern and innovative products affects the competition, with companies wanting to position their marketing and R&D so that they appear to be at the forefront of their market.
Especially among high-tech companies, which have frequent launches of cell phones and notebooks, the competition even generates episodes of industrial espionage, which can cause abandonment of entire projects.
But betting on planned obsolescence in some sectors can be a shot in the foot of large companies. An example of this is what is happening to farmers in the state of Nebraska, in the United States.
Believing that they could also practice the obsolescence programmed in their state-of-the-art tractors, which caused their vehicles to crash completely, the companies that manufactured these products had to see farmers hacking their own goods to continue using them, losing the monopoly on maintenance and services.
Future of obsolescence: how to fight this evil?
A change in the consumption system, especially in technology, needs to be made. Some initiatives in this direction are already being carried out, with the union of governments and population, through organizations like Feniss, by Benito Muros.
The need to change the consumption cycle is urgent, since the environment is already affected by all the production of e-waste that arrives in underdeveloped countries at all times.
An example of change is the concept that works with the idea of sustainability uniting industries and society for the good of the planet, called the Triple Bottom Line.
In 2016, IBM developed a method that recycles electronic waste and turns it into a new type of plastic that can be used in water purification, optical fibers and even in hospital equipment, due to its resistance and strength.
Other initiatives in this direction are being carried out by companies like Google and Tesla, which contribute to generate another form of marketing.
Here in London, Proteste, a civil entity that protects the rights of London consumers, has published some tips on how we can help prevent planned obsolescence, which includes a preference for brands that have more durable products.
In 2010, the National Solid Waste Policy was created, which even applies reverse logistics to hold manufacturers, distributors and other elements in this chain of products that generate waste to the environment responsible.
The change will only happen with the union of all the elements of this productive chain, including society. For this, we need to practice conscious consumption. Check out our article on this subject and learn how this form of consumption works!