Ethical Challenge: Sustainable for the Company, Unsustainable for the Planet
Business Sustainability practitioners frequently face ethical challenges. Planned Obsolescence is a marketing technique with such an ethical challenge. A product with Planned Obsolescence is retired earlier than the product’s real useful life so that the supplier can sell more products sooner. The technique also masks the true cost of the product by inducing users to buy the replacement sooner. Inkjet cartridges set to “expire,” new textbooks versions that change very little, and annual release of new cars are examples.
People wrested with planned obsolescence as an ethical issue in the 30s during the rise of manufacturing. Now, planned obsolescence is a common strategy. Established industries build product lines based on planned obsolescence. In addition, today’s disposable culture stemmed from planned obsolescence thinking. Disposable plates, cups, toothbrushes, cameras and phones crowd our landfill. These entire industries now depend on obsolescence to fuel their next quarterly report. Planned Obsolescence is also responsible for the death of the repair industry. Why fix if you can buy the newer, sexier one?
The implications are vast. Entire industries stand to fight the wave of the good life where products are made to last instead of disposed fast and early. How do we market the virtues of a product that lasts in a disposable culture?