Product obsolescence 


Planned obsolescence. The objective of designing a product in a way that encourages premature replacement, whether the product is been out moded or has just been designed of poor quality on purpose. Its a serious environmental problem and its only getting bigger. In North America, 100 million cell phones and 300 million personal computers are discarded each year, and only 20,000 televisions are refurbished each year while 20 million are sold. (Joseph Guiltinan Journal of Business Ethics (2009) 89:19–28). With constant developments in technology and materials we are seeing rapid changes in products especially in the last decade. Products are being discarded almost instantly as our culture of consumerism tells us we must have the latest. What is it that makes us want to discard perfectly good products into obsolescence for something only slightly better in performance or appearance.


Extreme advances in not only Technology but in the skill and knowledge of todays industrial designers have enabled companies to start developing and produce products in almost every category of durable goods. The nature of the materials that are often required and the rapid pace of product upgrading have resulted in negative environmental consequences for consumers and society.(cf. Calcott and Walls, 2005). Industrial designers and engineers of these products encourage this  persistent replacement of products through the incorporation of new and enticing features, styles and materials. These constant new benefits being incorporated into these products is initially instigated by companies and firms marketing team who advertise the additional value these frequent upgrades. Upgrades that are impossible to incorporate into existing products, due the materials and components incorporated by the designers and engineers. Thus in turn reducing the recyclability of the product and forcing it into obsolescence.


Don’t get me wrong, advances in technology and new innovation is good to a certain extent. But some of these advances may not always be worth the cost to the individual consumers nor to society. For example when these goods are being designed and engineered in product development for intentional demise they are only creating ongoing cost to the consumer and the environment, yet we still buy them. We as consumers have been over the years have been ‘psychologically conditioned’ (2009) to believe that the products we currently own have been diminished or outmoded, only because of a new version or development that could be as small as slightly faster processor in our cell phone or computer. Offering frequent product ‘‘upgrades’’ while touting minor or illusory benefit improvements might be considered a wasteful and potentially misleading practice (cf. Giaretta, 2005).


In conclusion planned obsolescence is driven by technological advancement and skillful engineers and designers, under the push of companies and their marketing teams to put out the newest and best. We all like to have the latest gadgets, and it definitely proves a certain social status, and these companies are making billions by our mindless co-operation. It’s only costing us and our environment.