A key factor in any product’s sustainability is its durability

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Tools_repairA key factor in any product’s sustainability is its durability. Maybe we should even be saying that it is THE key factor. If something lasts a long time and is made with quality, there is no need for you ever to replace it, recycle it or upcycle it.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

However, that is the very reason why industry, nowadays, has decided to built obsolescence into each and every product that they make so that we will have to buy the came products again, and again, and again, after a year or so, as it is designed to break after that time and so made that it cannot, in most cases, be repaired or repair is made so prohibitively expensive that we have no other choice to buy new.

In fact this decision was taken by capitalists in the US around 1950 as they had made such nice profits during the war they were looking for a way to keep those profits going after the war. During the war things were getting broken and destroyed all the time by enemy action and replacements had to be made and sold and they realized that, with the war over, their profits would be going down if they kept making things that last and so the decision was made to build in an obsolescence reducing the lifespan of products to but a few years and also making them non-repairable.

Once upon a time, and no, this is no fairy tale, things were made in such a way and the only time most people ever bought that product new was if there really was no way to fix it again or if they really wanted a newer, maybe better, one.

Industry had to innovate in those days and bring out real new things if they wanted to keep selling things or find new markets for the things they already made and that meant a lot of R&D and marketing. With built-in obsolescence there is no need for either and you can just go on selling the same thing over and over again in your “normal” market. And that is the aim, and to make as much profit, from such sales, as possible.

As consumers, however, we have the power, and don't believe that you don't, by means of our spending power, such as it may be, to demand stuff again that is made well, by using quality materials, and designed and made to last, and that can be repaired should something go wrong with them. The same goes for stuff that is “Made in England” or “Made in Britain”, “Made in USA” or “Made in Germany”, if you wish to buy products from the home country and not stuff that is made in the Far East or such. This also applies to ethically produced goods. Use your spending power and use it wisely.

What the capitalists designed with the built-in obsolescence is for them to extract ever more money from us, the customer, the consumer, without having to do much for it by way of research and development (R&D), as we have to buy the same product time and again. Or they go so far as to make products obsolete, bring new ones to the market that we then have to buy, where neither charger nor anything else previously used fit, as we see time and again with computer printers for instance and also and especially computers. The software that works fine on a previous installation no longer works on the new one or the updated software no longer works on the operating system that we have at present, forcing us to get a new operating system installed, which often needs a new computer, in fact.

And, even if a product can, theoretically, be repaired repair is either several times more expensive than a new product or, in the case I experience with a pair of boots which, although well made with the upper actually sewn to a leather mid-sole so-called shoe and boot menders could not repair a small section of seam that had come undone as they did not have “a machine to do it”. All that would have been required were two bent needles, thread and five minutes work. The repair skills have also gone out of the window and repair shops can only repair something if they have a machine that can do the repair. Help!

In days gone by there was a cobbler in almost any village and several on the high street of every town and the same goes for alteration and repair tailors. There were shops that could mend a wireless set (radio receiver to those not familiar with the British English) and televisions when they came about and not so long ago there were even shops still that could and would repair computers. Most of them have now gone also because PCs have become cheaper to buy new than to get them fixed.

An entire sector of the economy, the repair economy, has been destroyed or rendered unprofitable by the fact that products can no longer be repaired or are made too expensive to repair as specialist tools and parts are required. But we, as consumers, can change this by changing our buying habits. You and I have the power. Let's use it and hit them where it hurts them, their profits.

© 2014