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How 'built to last' lays the foundation for responsible consumption

How 'built to last' lays the foundation for responsible consumption

Buying items ‘built to last’ is a core circular economy behaviour identified in our Behavioural Roadmap to Circular Consumption

With Australia’s material footprint growing, we’re faced with the challenge of quashing rapid consumption and disposability that greatly contributes to this issue. In a three-year long research project, a behavioural systems mapping tool spearheaded by BehaviourWorks Australia's Jennifer Macklin and Lena Jungbluth, helped to identify some of the key behaviours which can be promoted to ultimately reduce material footprint.

Built to last’ is one of the core behaviours that can achieve this. ‘Built to last’ behaviours involve consumers purchasing an item explicitly because it is built to have substantively greater number of uses, use-time or lifetime than conventional alternatives on the market. Such characteristics may be flexibility/modularity, longer included warranties, and/or specific design for repair, functional upgrade or aesthetic upgrade.  The implications of this behaviour are profound, including economic and environmental benefits to the consumers while facilitating the additional core circular behaviours such as making do with existing, repair and pass on. 

The case for durability

We’ve all been victims of planned obsolescence. After just two years of using your smartphone, the battery life no longer sees you through the day and you are faced with a dilemma: endure or upgrade? Most would choose the latter. Unfortunately, in today's market, longevity has taken a backseat. Increasing demand for items has been met with cheap materials and quick production times, resulting in subpar products that end up in landfill. This short timeframe prompts more items to be manufactured - and disposed of - perpetuating the cycle and expanding our material footprint as a consequence. Moreover, the poor quality goods renders it difficult - sometimes impossible - to engage in further circular behaviours such as repair or resell. Built to last, offers an antithesis to this model. 

The consumer perspective 

From the consumer’s vantage point, ‘technical durability’ stands out as a major driver for purchase decisions, as illuminated by some of BehaviourWorks Australia’s previous research. Consumers have illustrated a willingness to invest more in items with the promise of longevity. Unfortunately, however, a glaring barrier exists: durable products that are available to individual or organisational consumers come with a hefty price tag, making them inaccessible to many.  This high price point not only renders the market inequitable, but there is an unreliable quality-price relationship, that is, the price is not justified to the consumer. By championing ‘built to last’ in both individual consumer and organisational markets, not only do we meet consumer demands but unlock potential economies of scale, making durable products more affordable and widespread, while perpetuating a circular economy. 

The industry challenge: designing, making and selling ‘built to last’ 

Designing products truly ‘built to last’ reveals a suite of challenges. Such a challenge demands collaboration of various stakeholders, including designers and producers, retailers and consumers. However our prevailing economic model—driven by profit maximisation and mass production—is counterintuitive to this shift. To achieve ‘built to last’, we move away from this traditional model. However this isn’t an easy feat, with barriers such as business’s apprehensions that consumers will be receptive. From the upstream perspective, a consideration of not only technical durability, but also aesthetic/emotional durability, functional flexibility and upgradability, and repairability is necessary to optimise a product more holistically. 

Jennifer suggests systemic interventions to facilitate this shift, such as governmental mandates on minimum durability standards in design. This has the potential to influence not only consumer behaviour, but the system at large. The aim? Empowering both individual consumers and organisational consumers to make informed choices that favour products that are durable, flexible, repairable and upgradable.

Cascading effect – how ‘built to last’ positively affects the value chain

The current state of most products means that consumers are unable to engage in circular behaviours at the products end-of-life, such as repairing or selling. ‘Built to last’ has a transformative ripple effect through the entire value chain. Products designed with longevity offer the structural integrity needed to persist should it break or no longer be of use. This negates the need to produce another product whilst which would otherwise add to our material footprint. By championing this approach, we’re not just enhancing product value, but also reimagining our current production model and ultimately reducing material footprint.

Read more about the Behavioural Roadmap to Circular Consumption

Written by Milly Graham

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