Why the ‘right to repair’ movement needs more attention
by Jonathan Hurvitz. Right to repair is a movement that seeks to legally compel manufacturers to make spare parts of the products they produce available to the end user.Monday, 19 Jul 2021
by Jonathan Hurvitz. Every year some eight million metric tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean. And while there is no denying that this is a worryingly large number that deserves our collective attention and action; we also need to look at the consumer goods that end up in landfills simply because we don’t know how to replace or repair a minor part of an otherwise well-functioning object.
“Planned obsolescence” is what Investopaedia describes as a strategy that deliberately ensures that a product will become out of date or useless within a known period of time. Similarly, planned obsolescence also occurs when the product has been designed so that it will stop functioning properly within a set time period. In both scenarios the consumer is all but forced to discard the product in question and purchase a new one. And while the business imperative for a strategy of planned obsolescence may have its merits, there is far more to this issue that needs to be unpacked, understood and addressed.
Design for longevity
Firstly, the centre of our culture of consumption cannot hold. Across the globe, resources are under severe pressure and to keep producing at the same rate as we have been in the past is simply not sustainable. Secondly, all things – appliances, clothing, electronics, furniture – have to end their life cycle somewhere, in the ocean or in a landfill, unless we find ways to keep them functional for longer. The solution is, unsurprisingly, easier said than done as it requires, firstly, a shift in consciousness around our consumption habits. Secondly, producers and manufacturers need to be compelled to design for longevity, and, thirdly, we need to widely embrace the tenets of the right to repair movement that’s gaining traction in the US and Europe.
Right to repair is a movement that seeks to legally compel manufacturers to make spare parts of the products they produce available to the end user, according to the BBC. Currently, many appliances and electronics can only be repaired by the manufacturers themselves or through authorised deals. The products are designed such that one needs the “inside knowledge” in order to repair the product yourself. This is particularly true of smartphones, tablets and laptops that are close to impossible to fix or alter yourself, which means either paying a premium to have them repaired or simply discarding the old and opting for the new. The European Commission’s announcement that it has plans to implement right-to-repair rules is thus very positive. Similarly, in New York the Fair Repair Act has passed the State’s Senate, which means manufacturers can be compelled to make diagnostic and repair information about their products available.
Naturally there is a lot of resistance, particularly from tech companies, to the right to repair movement, citing concern of safety as the reason for their reluctance to embrace such policies. But businesses which want to remain relevant in the next decade cannot afford to ignore the demands of their customers, and the right to repair is a movement that puts the power in the hands of the consumer, or the user, which means brands will simply have to find ways to adapt… and certainly will. Right to repair is, in my view, also about thinking differently about our appliances and electronics, such that we are mindful of how we care for them, to be aware of ways to extend their lifespan and to increase awareness around why and how things can be fixed.
Right to repair is a movement that needs to gain traction globally. We cannot allow planned obsolescence or a lack of knowledge about a certain product component to stand in the way of televisions, microwaves, sound systems and countless other objects simply lasting longer.
Jonathan Hurvitz is the Group CEO of online retailer Teljoy and a registered Chartered Accountant in South Africa.
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