Our house hates cold weather, so last February in the thick of the coldest month ever recorded, we experienced so many things breaking, it was enough to threaten to send me to the looney bin — and/or the poor house. Among the many things that broke down (including the furnace on several occasions) was our washing machine. When the repairman came to fix it he said, “It’s a 15 year old machine. It will cost you more to fix it than to replace it, but it’s your decision. Oh, and if you do decide to replace it, don’t bother with the really upscale models with extra bells and whistles, all appliances these days are built to last 10 years.”
“…all appliances these days are built to last 10 years.“
Now, this is only one repairman, and I know if there are any high-end manufacturers reading this, you will be yelling at me that this is not the case. My own personal anecdotal evidence is to say that, on average, I agree with the repairman.
The whole event got me thinking about the future of such a business model: building appliances that only last 10 years. This model is contrary to 50 years ago when a lot of the appliances were built to last 25-30 years and beyond, and were also relatively easy to repair. If you extrapolate a 10 year life cycle, the carbon footprint of any appliance is huge. In a world with over a billion people and with a goal of getting everyone out of poverty and into decent living situations, refrigerators seem like a growth opportunity. But I’m not sure our physical resources, or the planet, can handle that kind of intensity. As appliances are built to be cheaper and cheaper, plastic gets substituted for parts that used to be metal, hoses that were durable rubber are made slightly thinner, gaskets are cheaper, etc. It is, as with many business cases, a race to the bottom. So how do we stop the downward spiral and still help businesses make money while making customers happy?