Planned obsolescence : don’t tell me your company does it

Sometimes you learn of a new concept that, once planted in your brain, helps you make sense of a lot of things that were bugging you before. And this one doesn’t let go of me. The thing that was bugging me was this : I bought a top of the line Siemens Dishwasher two years ago. After 11 months the door fell open: the spring holding it up snapped. It was repaired under warranty and I got to watch the repairman. The spring (heavy steel quality) was held in place by a small shitty plastic piece that had snapped. In the location where the junk piece of plastic broke off there were actually ridges where a steel holding plate could be placed to hold back the spring. Had they placed that piece of steel ( < €0,05) in the first place the spring would have worked for ever. To be honest and fair I have to say that Siemens called me two month later to replace both springs + hinges for free because the doors were flying of these machines all over Europe. But still. Planned Obsolescence, or he art of making products die early so consumers buy new stuff. Apparently this is a widespread practice in the industry, especially for consumer electronics and kitchen machines. Examples :
– microprocessors included that perform suicide after so many hours. (You can’t make this stuff up)
– ink cartridges that declare themselves empty after some amount of time, regardless of the current content
– TV- back lights with a planned lifetime of 5 years in stead of 10 or 15
– use of inferior products that interact with for instance water and deteriorate (coffee machines)

Than there is the myriad of un reachable screws and screw heads that make it impossible for product owners to open a device and replace an LED, switch or bulb. Stuff isn’t made to be repairable anymore. I find this highly frustrating, because so much good stuff is replaced downgrading the embedded raw materials and embedded energy. I’m even in the process of starting up a local RepairCafe where I live, because of this frustration.

I’ve given this some thought and this is where I come up with:
Cat 0 : Stuff that must have planned obsolescence {VOID}
Cat 1 : Stuff that is allowed to have a short life – stuff that falls under Moore’s Law is entitled to do be unrepairable . Mobile technology develops so fast that it is useless to build it like it were a tank. You can’t blame Apple that an iPhone 3 can’t run the latest and greatest augmented reality apps, microprocessors just weren’t fast enough 5 years ago. So it’s OK to end of technical life after 5 years.
Cat 2 : – stuff that is banned from planned obsolescence technologies – the rest of stuff we buy

That’s a lot of stuff. Yes, but we also need to get rid of HUGE amounts of unnecessary produced goods. Too bad for the manufacturers. Get over it, you are destroying the planet with your behavior. If you want to sell something new, you have to convince the customer with a buy back program, lease or whatever, but we are NOT going to allow you to produce stuff that is meant to break early. Soooooooo, my economy destroying rules are going to be declared law by tomorrow:

1) all subcomponents of a product must have a matching expected life time. If a judge desides that that flimsy plastic tab is not of the same strength magnitude as the heavy duty spring it is holding the consumer is entitled a full refund NO MATTER HOW OLD THE PRODUCT IS.
2) only standard reachable Philips and Torx screws are allowed for for assembly.
3) total ban on suicide chips and technologies
4) a new “R” logo for repairable will be created. Only companies with gold standard repairability of their products are entitled to use this logo.
5) products with suicide chips must be labeled as such
6) products with a shorter lifespan than “forever” must be labeled with data showing how long it is expected to operate (“Mean Time Between Failure” used to be such a standard for hard disks when I was young) so consumers can willingly decide between 1 month, 2 years and 20 years.

I call for the investment industry to come up with an index of companies that produce repairable goods. I don’t want to invest in companies who think they can get away with intentionally fooling their customers.

And I will make “we don’t use planned obsolescence technologies” a standard question in my sustainable development questionnaire when accessing a company. Period.

The Dutch documentary that inspired me to write this blogpost


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