Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Product Longevity in a World Driven by Consumption

It will obvious to most of you that Product Longevity is incompatible with capitalism as we know it. The system relies on continuous consumption to perpetuate the workforce and grow enterprise. While there may be a capitalist incentive to produce long lasting products in some industries, the fact remains that breaking down just outside of the warranty period is the most profitable circumstance.

Constant technological advancements seem to be a licence for excessive consumption, ongoing changes justifying the buy and throw away culture.

So how do we address this from a sustainability perspective?

It's becoming increasingly apparent that the decoupling of monetary gain from the production is imperative.

Would it be possible (profitable) for a company to start up, complete a production run of one very long lasting product, and then move onto another, different product? Possibly, but only if the company's infrastructure was designed in such a way as to allow for cheap and fast transformation to a new product line. Breakdowns may still happen and there would need to be something in place to deal with this or we would run out of products very quickly. Fundamentally, this approach would never be preferable to any company whose priority is to grow and make profit, but it might be demanded as more people realise the importance of sustainability.

It might even be in the interests of a sustainable community to form their own production facility not concerned with profit, similar to a cooperative but with a focus on sustainability over profit. Working outside the monetary system, this would undermine any companies working within it, completely out-competing them. It would take a large amount of resources to instigate and complete, but these could be supplied voluntarily and without debt by the community. Also there would only be a single one-off project for each product.

However, this single production run system would not work for genuinely consumable products, or fast advancing technological products. It would also have a problem dealing with any products that break down.

We must think about how to produce goods that integrate product longevity while also allowing for ongoing technological enhancement, and effectively dealing with product failures.

Whilst this is completely incompatible with corporate growth, it may still allow a company to run indefinitely, albeit without growth. Is it really so bad for a company to continue running at the same capacity indefinitely, especially if it means sustainable production?

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The above post was written some years ago, and since then these ideas have become apparent to many people.

In fact, work is taking place to create asynchronous enterprises - organisations that use their non-profit status to completely out compete their for-profit counterparts. Due to the lack of profit requirement and a desire to maintain a sustainable production cycle, these enterprises have the potential to obsolete many traditional businesses.

It is called Peer Production, and the idea is gaining momentum. Does it have the potential to shift the world away from profit driven business?

Check out a whole host of information here.