If you have ever invested in a product for your firm only to discover a changed version entering the market a year later and rendering yours obsolete, you are dealing with a company that places a strong emphasis on planned obsolescence.
It’s an annoying problem that both customers and businesses deal with on everything from phones to quick fashion.
However, it’s time to cease adding to the linear waste cycle constantly. Planned obsolescence damages your company’s finances and reputation, and there are also environmental impacts of planned obsolescence.
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What is Planned Obsolescence?
Companies construct products with a limited lifespan as a tactic known as planned obsolescence, which entices customers to purchase new models of the same product. The idea is not new; it was first used in the 1920s.
However, planned obsolescence’s detrimental effects on the environment have gained a lot of attention lately. It is a major factor, according to many experts, in the rising quantity of e-waste that ends up in landfills.
Conversely, others contend that innovation and economic progress cannot be sustained without planned obsolescence.
Mobile phones are one instance of this. Some materials, including polymers, silicones, and resins, as well as precious metals like cobalt, copper, gold, and other conflict minerals, are needed to make the tiny computer in your pocket every time a new iPhone model is released.
Just consider the amount of waste that results from using both natural and artificial materials. Then keep in mind that the typical smartphone user only owns it for two to three years.
Naturally, this is just one instance. Since planned obsolescence was first proposed in the 1920s, the automobile industry has also been criticized; however, at that time, the practice’s negative effects on the environment could not have been predicted.
For customers, it goes beyond simple convenience and cost considerations. Where are all these outdated gadgets going? This tactic is beginning to reflect badly on businesses who use it as more and more customers become aware of it.
Although planned obsolescence misleads consumers and harms the environment, brand perceptions are also being damaged. Why do they do it, then? Planned obsolescence is a strategy to increase demand, which is what drives economies.
Types of Planned Obsolescence
Planned obsolescence, in its broadest sense, refers to a multifaceted, bigger approach. Certain items make use of several types of planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is one way for businesses to create new demand, but how does that work in practice? Several forms of planned obsolescence exist, including:
A product’s perceived obsolescence is based on how quickly trends change. Newer iterations of things are designed by designers to encourage customers to purchase the newest fashions.
Conceived durability occurs when product designers make a product that lasts shorter than expected so that users have to replace it more often.
Products that cannot be repaired are referred to as being prevented from being repaired. Customers are compelled to purchase a new product to replace the old one, regardless of how minor the repair may be when product repairs are prohibited.
Devices can also become outdated due to software changes. Newer software upgrades, which are most frequently used with consumer electronics, may not work with your older item. This can have a cascading effect that makes your device so slow and unreliable that you have to replace it.
Environmental Impacts of Planned Obsolescence
The process of engineering items to become antiquated or unusable after a specific amount of time is known as planned obsolescence, and it has become a popular commercial tactic. It harms the environment even though it might be good for the economy.
The environmental impacts of planned obsolescence on the environment are among its biggest risks. Products that are discarded after they become outdated result in a rise in electronic waste, more resource extraction, and more energy usage. This exacerbates the global environmental issue by causing pollution, deforestation, and climate change.
Increased waste production, pollution, and the depletion of natural resources are the results of this approach. It is clear that intentional obsolescence has an influence on the environment, and this needs to be addressed. Some of the negative effects of planned obsolescence on the environment are listed below.
- Forced Migration: A Climate Change Effect
- Productivity Decline and Climate Change
- More Landfill Space and Waste Generation
- Resource Depletion
- Increased Pollution
- Higher Energy Consumption
- The Carbon Footprint of Short-Lived Products
1. Forced Migration: A Climate Change Effect
Climate change is already causing unprecedented environmental changes, such as rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
These changes are forcing vulnerable communities to confront the horrifying reality of forced migration. In this sense, planned obsolescence and climate change are related threats.
We worsen environmental deterioration, which exacerbates climate change, as electronic waste made of devices destined for early obsolescence accumulates. Numerous people are forced to leave their houses as a result of this destructive cycle, as their dwellings become unlivable.
Our continued exploitation of limited resources for the sake of making quick money adds to the climate catastrophe, which in turn causes the number of climate refugees to rise. The difficult task of locating new residences and sources of income falls on these climate migrants.
Therefore, the larger problem of reducing climate change and dealing with the ensuing human displacement is connected to the struggle between designers, marketers, accountants, and management to achieve planned obsolescence.
2. Productivity Decline and Climate Change
Furthermore, climate change is going to cause disruptions to global productivity. The rising frequency and severity of extreme weather events affect supply chains, manufacturing, and agriculture—the very economic mechanisms that underpin the practice of planned obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence is fueled by a shortsighted concentration on quarterly profits, which also keeps businesses from effectively tackling the long-term challenges posed by climate change.
Reduced consumer purchasing power, job losses, and economic downturns can result from climate-related productivity decreases. As a result, businesses struggle to adjust to a changing environment, undermining economic sustainability and resilience in the process.
3. More Landfill Space and Waste Generation
Planned obsolescence is becoming an increasingly serious issue because of its substantial effects on the environment. The increased production of waste and the ensuing strain on landfill space are two important effects of planned obsolescence.
Goods intended to become antiquated or worthless after a particular amount of time frequently wind up in landfills, adding to the growing amount of garbage created worldwide. For example, because cell phones are made to last for a short time, users must buy new ones more regularly, which increases the amount of electronic waste produced.
For many years, the manufacturing sector has engaged in this practice, whereby things are purposefully made to have a short lifespan. As a result, customers are compelled to replace them more regularly, which raises the amount of garbage produced.
Landfill space is getting harder to come by as a result of planned obsolescence’s massive waste output. Because landfills pose serious threats to the environment and public health, they are not a viable solution to the waste disposal problem.
One of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change is landfills. Landfills also pose a serious risk to the health of people and animals because they can contaminate groundwater and soil.
With millions of tons of electronic equipment thrown away annually worldwide, electronic waste is an increasing problem. Products containing potentially harmful substances like lead, mercury, and cadmium are extremely dangerous for the environment and human health.
Electronics that are thrown out frequently wind up in landfills, where they can release hazardous substances into the ground and waterways.
5. Resource Depletion
Natural resources are exhausted as a result of producing new goods to replace outmoded ones. For example, rare minerals that are taken from the earth, such as cobalt, gold, and copper, are needed for electronic products. Deforestation, pollution, and biodiversity loss result from the mining of these minerals.
6. Increased Pollution
Pollution rises as a result of the creation of new products. For example, the production of electronic goods releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which exacerbates climate change. Furthermore, disposing of outdated goods pollutes the environment. Toxic chemicals are released into the environment when e-waste is disposed of in landfills.
7. Higher Energy Consumption
Energy usage rises as new products are produced. For example, the energy-intensive nature of the production process for electronic devices results in higher carbon emissions. Furthermore, it takes a lot of energy to dispose of outdated products, which raises energy usage.
8. The Carbon Footprint of Short-Lived Products
Often referred to as disposable products, short-lived products are made to be used just once or for a very brief time before being thrown away. These products need to be changed regularly since they are often built inexpensively and have a short lifespan.
The creation and disposal of short-lived products have a big influence on the environment, despite their seeming convenience. These products’ carbon footprints are a big worry since they add to the greater problem of climate change.
The following information sheds light on the carbon impact of transient products:
- A substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions are produced during the production of items with limited lifespans. For instance, the extraction and processing of raw materials, product transportation, and energy use during production all result in emissions while producing plastic utensils and straws. The product’s total carbon footprint is impacted by these emissions.
- The disposal of short-lived products adds to the carbon footprint as well. These goods release methane, a strong greenhouse gas, into landfills when they are thrown away. Emissions are also produced during the delivery of these materials to landfills.
- While some short-lived products can appear innocuous at first, their whole life cycle’s carbon footprint might add up to a substantial amount. Single-use coffee capsules, for instance, have a large carbon impact during production and disposal, even though they may seem convenient. The energy required to create and ship the pods adds to their carbon footprint, and the plastic used to build them is frequently not recyclable.
- Opting for products with extended lifespans can considerably lower our consumption’s carbon footprint. For instance, you can use a reusable water bottle that will endure for years in place of buying throwaway plastic water bottles. Similarly, you can use a reusable tote bag in place of single-use plastic bags.
- Recycling can also assist in lowering the carbon footprint of products with a short lifespan. Selecting products made of recyclable materials will help cut down on the quantity of garbage that ends up in landfills, even though not all products are recyclable.
Regarding the effects of planned obsolescence on the environment, one of the main worries is the carbon footprint of items with short lifespans. We can greatly lessen the effects of climate change and our carbon footprint by selecting items that are meant to last longer and are composed of recyclable materials.
While completely doing away with planned obsolescence appeals to consumers, sustainable adaptation—that is, using green technology and improved e-recycling infrastructure—may be more effective in reducing the detrimental effects of planned obsolescence on society and the environment.
Many consumers have adopted planned obsolescence as a way of life as well as a commercial tactic. Social factors such as “perceived technological obsolescence, social status, and superficial damage ” would encourage buyers to keep buying the newest and greatest things even if they were made to last.
In light of this, eliminating planned obsolescence on its own might not be adequate unless additional tactics that more accurately represent modern customer behavior are also implemented.
To lessen their detrimental effects on the environment, businesses must implement sustainable practices and think carefully about the environmental impact of their products.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.