Obsolescence Project: New attitudes towards consumption

The Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI) has recently launched a project dedicated to the phenomenon of built-in or planned obsolescence. Its foundation was laid by Mr Thierry Libaert's opinion on built-in obsolescence – after his initial idea things took momentum and the project gained shape through the work of the following EESC members:

This project, as its name suggests, is not a one-off action. So it is not merely a usual EESC opinion, nor just a conference devoted to the subject, but rather a series of events, opinions, declarations, articles, follow-up activities, to make sure that the issue of planned obsolescence makes its way to the political agendas of the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The root, the starting point of this project is the CCMI opinion "CCMI/112 Towards more sustainable consumption: industrial product lifetimes and restoring trust through consumer information" (simply called: opinion on planned obsolescence). During the preparation of this document, the CCMI organized a hearing to hear stakeholders' voices on the issue on 7 May 2013, here is the link to the event). At this hearing very interesting presentations were made. Eventually, this opinion was adopted on 17 October 2013, calling for a total ban on planned obsolescence (read the press release here).

Parallel to the works of the CCMI, the EESC's INT section drew up an opinion on a subject very closely related to planned obsolescence. It deals with collaborative consumption.

After the release of these two opinions the idea of the project was born. The main objectives are

  • to propose a concrete action plan with a view to foster more ecologic, economic, environmental and user friendly consumption patterns among consumers,
  • to evaluate the impact of the opinion on built-on obsolescence,
  • to evaluate the tangible results of consumer awareness raising and
  • to see and to discuss modalities and best practices of product labelling that includes information on expected product lifetimes.

This project centres around two main lines: collaborative consumption and built-in obsolescence. Both of these topics fit into a broader framework of new types of consumption methods. While they are topics in themselves, they are inherently linked when it comes to more ecologic, economic, environmental and user friendly consumption.

The following activities have been realized so far in the framework of this project:

The conference in Madrid closed with the release of the so called Madrid declaration, which formulates precisely the manifesto of this CCMI project:

We, the participants at the meeting on New attitudes towards consumption organised by the EESC at the invitation of the European Commission's Representation in Spain on 25 June 2014, hereby declare that:

  • the dominant economic model, based on production and consumption, has too many shortcomings. In times of crisis, there is too much emphasis on damage limitation and not enough on promoting competitive European growth for our economic and social well-being;
  • the fight against planned obsolescence should be one of the centrepieces of an innovative Europe, balancing the economic, social and environmental dimensions, positioning the entrepreneur as a provider of services and putting sustainability centre stage;
  • by reducing the cost to individuals of accessing products, introducing a sense of solidarity into commerce and engendering new modes of production, collaborative consumption is ushering in a new phase that the European Union should be doing more to support;
  • the fight against planned obsolescence, and collaborative consumption - these concepts are the face of a totally new kind of economy. Industrial ecology, ecodesign, the functional economy, the circular economy: all of these approaches must be provided for and shored up with a view to securing economic competitiveness, establishing local networks, creating new jobs and reducing the environmental and social impact;
  • the European Union must be at the cutting edge of innovation, developing new models that facilitate a competitive economic transition built on sustainable foundations. This can be achieved by enshrining sustainable consumption as a consumer right within EU legislation. In addition, focusing on product use rather than on individual features and increasing product lifetime are ways of cutting down on waste. Dynamic and innovative measures equal to these new challenges must spur the European Union on to recalibrate the economy and restore confidence among Europe's businesses and consumers.

Carlos Trias Pinto / Thierry Libaert / Jean-Pierre Haber / Bernardo Hernandez Bataller

At our latest event, the round table on obsolescence on 17 October 2014 in Brussels, Mr. Pascal Durand, Member of the European Parliament said: "It is very important to define the whole model of society that we want for the future. In this context I have the intention to write an initiative report in the European Parliament on the subject of the fight against "planned obsolescence" in Europe to reach a legislative uniform standard."

As a next step, the CCMI will soon launch an empirical study to investigate how product labelling on estimated lifetime could have an impact on consumer behaviour. Stay tuned...!