The circular economy, a solution to planned obsolescence?

Alternative modes of marketing and use of products must be promoted. By Frédéric Caymaris-Moulin, Managing Director of Lokéo
Amended at the end of 2014, the law on energy transition makes planned obsolescence a crime punishable by two years in prison and a fine of 300,000 euros. The opportunity to break down some misconceptions about a concept that has nourished for many years our collective unconscious.

Suspicion of the French
Since 2008, strong markers have been the beginning of an awareness that is gradually changing our relationship to consumption. Economic crisis, societal crisis, climate change, so many signals that lead us today to denounce the hyperconsumption and to feel suspicion vis-à-vis the manufacturers. According to an OpinionWay study conducted in late 2014, 80% of French people are convinced of the reality of the planned obsolescence of household electrical appliances and multimedia *.

Is this suspicion justified? How to prove that the obsolescence of a product is intentionally planned? This question poses a real problem for the application of the law, especially the last amendment, which seems to be more of a deterrent than a real intention to punish.

Is obsolescence really programmed?
If, historically, the costs of production and therefore the selling prices keep decreasing (for example, the acquisition of a television represented two years of average salary 50 years ago, 14 days in 1984 and only six days in 2004, for a product with many more features and a much better quality), it is the industrialization practices that are pointed out: it is criticized companies to “hide” behind the need to innovate and take advantage of the latest technological developments to force consumers to renew their products more quickly.

Two elements contradict such reasoning. On the one hand, the planned obsolescence would involve an additional expense to design and industrialize the implementation of a system programming the end of life of a product, which is absolutely not in the current logic of companies: additional cost would be in total contradiction with their efforts to improve their profitability, in the current economic context.

On the other hand, if technological progress contributes to the evolution of uses, it does not fully condition the evolution of needs or aspirations of consumers. Manufacturers can not impose a high rate of technical renewal if these developments do not meet consumer expectations. 3D television is the best example.

But consumers are fond of technologies whose benefits they perceive. This is even more true in the field of multimedia: 27% of French people say they own a television a little dated or technologically outdated compared to only 16% at the forefront of technology * and 70% wish to invest in a longer term equipment more modern, efficient, energy efficient, etc.

Repairing household electrical goods, a meaningful process
The French appreciate the technological evolution. That’s why they are often willing to pay a high-quality new product for credit and credit to quickly replace a broken product and avoid expensive and risky repairs. However, for 21% of French people, the repair of household electrical goods and multimedia is a meaningful process *. Redeeming rather than repairing means accepting obsolescence as a fatality that the consumer must bear the full costs.

A chance to encourage the circular economy and limit our environmental impact
However, alternative modes of marketing and use offer reliable and modern products, as well as packages of services to maintain, repair or replace them with more efficient over the technological evolution. With these new systems consumers are constantly benefiting from technologically up-to-date products. These modes of marketing are multiplying today: leasing goods, providing services rather than products, commissioning commitments / recovery / repair / recycling … and promote a circular economy in which to consume does not mean destroy but use and where the important thing is the use value more than the exchange value. In summary, the supplier offers a service based on a product which he manages from A to Z the life cycle.

The supplier therefore remains responsible even after the sale and not only via a technical guarantee. He undertakes to repair or replace but especially to sell through other circuits products in working order or to recycle others.

These methods of marketing and use are therefore part of a virtuous circle, at least, away from the vicious circle of consumption / destruction.

In the end, programmed or not, the obsolescence of the products remains a reality of which too many manufacturers put the responsibility on the consumer. The latter, refuses more and more to be the turkey of the farce. The solution of the problem of obsolescence will certainly rely on new marketing methods but especially consumption.

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