Planned Obsolescence, Upcycling and a New Ethos of Permanence

🌎 Vance Packard in his brilliant book The Waste Makers describes in-built obsolescence or planned obsolescence as “the systematic attempt of business to make us wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals.” It is more than that it is an affront to our intelligence and a threat to the environment.

🌎 Planned obsolescence comes in many guises. From the traditional rationale of designing a product with parts that break outside of the warranty period; to notification obsolescence where a product tells you it is no longer effective; to style obsolescence where a product is designed to become unfashionable and behind the times quickly; to technical obsolescence where new technology makes your DVD player etc. seem defunct after a few years; to systemic obsolescence where updates and support are dropped forcing you to re-buy a similar product.

Planned Obsolescence

🌎 From a green interior design perspective style obsolescence is important. TV shows are forever giving houses ‘make-overs’ to make them more stylish. This improves the sales of furniture, paint and other materials. Consumers should wake up to the con that is fashion. Rather than design your interior spaces to look ‘contemporary’ or ‘ethnic’ or whatever is the latest cool fad, you should design your interior spaces to be energy efficient and healthy. Soft furnishings, flooring, curtains, blinds, kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms need a new rationale of permanence built into their design.

🌎 Homeowners would be wise to choose products made from renewable resources such as bamboo, water hyacinth, rattan, cork, coconut and reclaimed hardwood rather than obsess about colors and patterns. Neutral colors and simple patterns are less obtrusive. What is really ‘cool’ is something that will last and has a low carbon footprint. We need to get these positive notions in our heads when shopping for our homes.

🌎 Home appliances should be bought from the point of view of necessity and utility rather than from a view to keeping up with the Joneses. The Joneses themselves are behind the times. Energy Star rated products seek to do a better, more energy efficient job than non-Energy Star rated products. They save you money on electricity bills and thus help to pay for themselves. This is a real criterion for choice.

🌎 The notion of recycling is important. Consumerism in its traditional sense wants people to abandon products after a few years and buy new. Recycling wood, glass, tiles and fabrics saves valuable resources, prevents pollution and promotes the notion of an added value to any product.

🌎 Upcycling is the idea of recycling not merely by breaking down something to re-use in a more basic way, but to make something of greater value from the material. Thus using waste to make furniture or old tires to make sandals is upcycling. If you aren’t handy enough to transform your unwanted household items into useful objects then try and support small businesses that are involved in upcycling.

🌎 By supporting companies and products that go against the grain of big business and seek to make energy efficient, long lasting and low carbon products you are making a valuable point. People spend a lot of money on interior design, if that money was spent on green interior design instead market forces would bring about a change. Think local, think energy efficient, think recycled, think permanence.

Video Planned Obsolescence