Sustainable Consumption in the consumer electronics sector: Design solutions and strategies to minimise product obsolescence

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This paper considers a specific aspect of sustainable consumption: product obsolescence in the consumer electronics sector. While economic and policy aspects are critical to a coordinated approach to sustainable consumption, this research focuses upon the contribution that industrial or product design can make to the longevity of consumer electronic goods. This issue is of rising importance, both in industrializing and industrialized nations where the rate of consumption and generated volumes of e-waste have grown dramatically in recent years. Recycling continues to be a priority in many countries that deal with e-waste. Likewise, industrial or product ‘design for the environment’ practices are mostly predicated upon eco-efficiency strategies to minimise environmental impacts. Such strategies often fail to address the behavioural and cultural aspects of consumption, which can result in rebounds - where material flows in the economy swell, leading to increased impacts. It is claimed that as much as 80% of all product-related environmental impacts are determined during the product design phase. This research investigates existing examples and conditions that can contribute to product longevity and the potential for product design to tackle obsolescence in the consumer electronic goods sector. A series of product design solutions and strategies are reviewed in this paper, including: piggybacking new technology, designing-out aesthetic deterioration, modularity and design for upgradeability, product reassignment, product DNA metadata, design quality and secondary markets.
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Park, Miles
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