Product Longevity in a World of Consumption
It will be obvious to most of you that Product Longevity is incompatible with capitalism as we know it. The system relies on continuous consumption to perpetuate the workforce, grow enterprise, and maintain profits. While there may be a capitalist incentive to produce long lasting products in some industries, the fact remains that breaking down just outside of the warranty period is the most profitable circumstance.
Constant technological advancements seem to be a licence for excessive consumption, ongoing changes justifying the buy-and-throw-away culture. Things, in general, are not designed to be upgraded, they are designed to be superseded and replaced.
How do we address this from a sustainability perspective?
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the decoupling of monetary gain from production is an imperative.
Would it be possible (profitable) for a company to start up, complete a production run of one very long lasting product, and then move onto another, different product? Maybe, but only if the company’s infrastructure was designed in such a way as to allow for cheap and fast transformation to a new product line. There may still be difficulties supplying genuinely consumable products, and fast advancing technological products, and dealing with any products that break down.
Fundamentally, any sustainable production model would never be preferable to any company whose priority is to grow and make profit. However, it might be demanded as more people realise the importance of sustainability.
We must think about how to produce goods that integrate product longevity while also allowing for ongoing technological enhancement, and effectively dealing with product failures.
It might then be in the interests of a sustainable community to form their own production facilities not concerned with profit, similar to a cooperative but with a focus on sustainability over profit. Working outside the monetary system, this would undermine any companies working within it, out-competing them.
This may allow a community enterprise to run indefinitely, albeit without growth.
Such an enterprise could adopt sustainable production methods such as modular design. An example of such a project is PhoneBloks, who propose a mobile phone design where the base of the phone is produced and an array of components can then be added or removed, personalizing the device and allowing for ease of replacing damaged parts. Laptops, tablets, or any handheld device could make use of this platform, such as washing machines, fridges, gardening tools, or even cars.
Other goals of such an endeavour would include; reducing product duplication, reducing waste, building more robust products, and incorporating more reusable components into every design.
This model may also allow for greater input during the design process. The internet can allow for a more collaborative approach to design as well as production. This is already happening, it’s only a matter of time before the designs are good enough that these products take off. Then, the concepts of open, sustainable, modular, and, most significantly, profitless design enter the mainstream.
How will profit-driven corporations respond?