planned obsolescence

50 measures for sustainable consumption and production

On the occasion of the European elections, HOP publishes its White Paper and proposes 50 measures for sustainable consumption and production. It is a public policy guide for a society without accelerated obsolescence. Among the key recommendations: the introduction of a sustainability index, courses to learn how to repair as early as secondary school, easier access to spare parts or the creation of a fund to make repairs cheaper. To put sustainability at the centre of future electoral events.
Alobal warming imposes the ecological transition. This cannot be done without rethinking our production and consumption methods. The equation for reducing our ecological footprint while satisfying citizens is to reduce the amount of virgin resources used while extending the life of products. Indeed, if we used 50% electrical products, household appliances, furniture and textiles longer, we could save 77 million tons of CO2 per year. (1), twice the amount of emissions from the aviation sector.

An unsustainable model

Accelerated product obsolescence thrives against the grain of history. Relying on technical, software and psychological levers (marketing, advertising), it raises the question of the desirability of a consumerist and productivist model of society developed since the 1960s. The question of "programmed" obsolescence is profoundly social. This unbridled race for the more or less forced renewal of products deprives individuals of their rights to sustainable use of goods and limits their purchasing power. We note that it also creates a feeling of frustration and mistrust among consumers. (2).
Naturally, such a system of production and consumption of ready-to-dispose, fragile and unrepairable goods is unsustainable. Both upstream and downstream, from manufacturing to waste management, it is based on exponential extraction of raw materials and rare earths, overexploitation of resources, emission of polluting and greenhouse gases that endanger health and biodiversity, not to mention the negative externalities in budgetary terms for the community that bears the costs. Let's take the example of smartphones: knowing that 80 % of the device's carbon footprint is generated during its construction (3), that 70 kilos of resources must be extracted to produce a single phone and that only 15 % of end-of-life phones are collected for recycling (4) there is a need to rethink production and sales models to extend the useful life of equipment and avoid replacement. Accelerated product obsolescence concerns all "durable" consumer goods: small and large household appliances, textiles, high-tech, automobiles, etc. The manufacture, transport and distribution of capital goods account for up to 25 % of the CO2 emissions of French households, i.e. the equivalent of 6 round trips from Paris to New York by plane. (5). The generalization of connected and digital objects also reinforces the difficulty of software obsolescence (not to mention the ecological impact of the digitization of traditionally low-tech objects). The consequences of this model are now threatening the ecosystem with collapse.

Progress still too timid

Although programmed obsolescence, which includes all the techniques aimed at deliberately shortening the lifespan or use of a product in order to increase its replacement rate, has been defined and punished by law in France since 2015, it must be said that the culture of disposing of so-called sustainable products unfortunately remains the norm. The 2014 consumer law has brought some timid improvements in terms of displaying the availability of spare parts and legal guarantees of compliance. This legal recognition with sanctions and these measures are essential but insufficient to make the transition to truly sustainable consumption and production.
In France, two complaints have been filed and are being investigated concerning the obsolescence of smartphones (Apple) and printers (Epson), punishable by a fine of 300,000 euros and 2 years imprisonment (and up to 5 % of the turnover of a legal entity). Italy has already fined Apple and Samsung for the same misleading commercial practices, which amount to programmed obsolescence. The media coverage of these cases, accompanied by strong citizen advocacy, has created an unprecedented surge in Europe and the world for the sustainability of products. With the Roadmap for the Circular Economy (FREC), the government has begun to address the issue by promoting mandatory display of repairability by January 1, 2020. This momentum must continue and expand. The commitments of French President Emmanuel Macron (6) must lead to concrete changes and be achieved, in particular, through the legislative and regulatory tool, such as the Circular Economy Act, a powerful tool for encouraging or forcing change. At the local level, elected officials can also contribute to extending the life of products, in direct relation to citizens' uses. The European level is also particularly relevant to these issues, since the Union has important competences in the field of product policy in the Single Market.
As the problems of obsolescence largely affect international firms, solutions must be envisaged on the continent, if not on a global scale, although this does not prevent us from acting on national territory. The United Nations has also taken up the subject and measures the importance of extending the life of products (7). Europe has the opportunity to distinguish itself on the global economic stage through the competitiveness of quality and sustainable products. Parliament has already voted almost unanimously on an own-initiative report on extending the lifespan of products in 2016. (8), in line with a report voted in 2013 by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) (9).
The European Union has begun to act within the framework of the 2014-2020 agenda set by the European Commission with a package of measures (54 ) aimed at creating a genuine framework for the development of the circular economy. In particular, the Union has noted, with regard to waste prevention, that the Member States take measures to prevent the production of waste and in particular "the design, manufacture and use of products which represent an efficient use of resources, are sustainable (in particular in terms of lifespan and the absence of planned obsolescence), repairable, reusable and of evolutionary design". (10). However, the results are not yet in.

The role of public policy

The work begun must continue, with one difference: an ambition commensurate with the stakes. This is the citizens' priority. Indeed, the citizens' consultations on Europe, launched by the President of the Republic in April 2018, in which 70,000 people took part, revealed the interest of citizens in the planned obsolescence, which, along with plastics and toxic products, is one of the three subjects that are the subject of the greatest number of environment-related proposals. It should be remembered that 92 % of Europeans would like the life expectancy of products to be displayed. (11), and that when consumers are informed of the longer life of a product, its sales increase by 56 % on average (12). A coalition of ever more numerous and diverse European players (consumer and environmental associations, distributors, manufacturers, repairers, researchers, designers, politicians of all stripes, etc.) is now calling for longer product life. The subject unites both consumers and businesses, as shown by the success of of the Sustainability Club  launched in 2017, whose objective is to create a network of voluntary economic actors to generalize the sustainability and reparability of goods.
Aware of the stakes at the climatic, environmental, geopolitical, social and health levels, the HOP association (Halt Programmed Obsolescence) wishes to act to design the world in which we want to live. With it, all those who want to put an end to accelerated obsolescence are joining forces to promote responsible consumption and a sustainable global economic model, based in particular on sustainable eco-design, repair, reuse, reconditioning, rental, loan, donation, "low-tech" innovation and sobriety.
This White Paper aims to propose measures to public decision-makers to enable the extension of product life and thus develop positive environmental, social and economic externalities. While these measures are more in line with a business-to-consumer (B2C) approach, they must be able to apply or inspire improvements between professionals (B2B) and in the public domain, all of whom are concerned by the lifespan of equipment.
This book makes 50 proposals grouped into six areas: improving the design of sustainable products (chap.1), enabling repairs (chap.2), developing the second-hand market (chap.3), sustainable consumption (chap.4), strengthening guarantees (chap.5), avoiding software obsolescence (chap.6).
For example, we find strong ideas such as displaying sustainability on products for better consumption, imposing a visible usage meter on certain products like the mileage counter (such as washing machines, TVs, computers, etc.), making producers responsible for repairs and having them contribute to a dedicated fund, supervising advertising, making spare parts available or supporting investment towards sustainable innovation.
This document does not pretend to be exhaustive, other relevant measures could have their place, but it does try to provide as many concrete, ambitious and realistic proposals as possible.
This White Paper is addressed to local, national and European elected representatives. It aims to assist in decision-making and contains a "toolbox" to facilitate the implementation of these recommendations.
Source : Introduction of the presentation of the HOP White Paper
(1) Workshop "Programmed Obsolescence: the great energy gap" organised at the European Energy Conference (2019), by HOP/Auxilia.
(2) In a survey carried out by the magazine 60 million consumers in May 2014, 92% of the respondents said they were "convinced that household or high-tech products are deliberately designed not to last".
(3) ADEME and FNE (2017). The impacts of the smartphone. A not so "smart" phone for the environment.
(4) Senate (2016). Information report made on behalf of the fact-finding mission on the inventory and fate of mobile phone materials and components. p.15.
(5) ADEME (2018). Modelling and assessment of the environmental impacts of consumer and capital goods products
(6) On the march (2017). Answer to the HOP questionnaire.
(7 ) UN Environment (2017). The Long View. Exploring Product Lifetime Extensio.
(8 ) European Parliament (2017), Own-initiative report of the European Parliament on Longer Product Life: Benefits for Consumers and Business.
(9 ) Own-initiative opinion, Towards more sustainable consumption: the lifespan of industry products and consumer information for renewed confidence, 17/10/2013 ref: CCMI/112-EESC-2013-1904.
(10) Directive 2018/851/EC (amending Directive 2008/98) Article 9(1)(b)
(11 ) Eurobarometer (2013). "Attitudes of europeans towards building the single market for green products'. European Commission
(12 ) EESC (2016), The effects of displaying the useful life of products.
Header photo : Reuters / Albert GEA

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