Public understanding of product lifetimes and durability

Client:
Defra
Start date:
January 2010
Completed:
January 2011

This study aimed to understand the potential amongst consumers for reducing the environmental impact of products by extending their lifetimes.

This research was commissioned by Defra to:

  • define the issues and collect evidence to develop an initial overview of public understanding of product lifetimes and durability;
  • complement and co-ordinate with the work being done by ERM on Longer Product Lifespans.

Objectives
The study aimed to answer the following research questions:

  1. What understanding and expectations do consumers have of product lifetimes?
  2. What part do product lifetimes play in consumer purchasing decisions?
  3. What actions do consumers take to extend the life of their products both at purchase and during use?
  4. Why do consumers discard products, and in particular why do they discard products that have not reached the end of their useful lives?

Method
The project was conducted by Brook Lyndhurst in three stages:

  • A literature review to look at existing work on attitudes towards durability and to uncover evidence on what motivates us to buy and dispose of products.
  • A first phase of original primary research with consumers in the form of twelve discussion groups. The discussion group research aimed to gain firsthand insight into consumers’ knowledge and understanding of product durability; explore the role, if any, of consumer expectations of product lifetimes on purchasing decisions; understand better how product lifetimes are affected by consumers’ treatment of products, considering in particular ‘ethics of care’ and attitudes towards disposal. This original research covers the following project categories: furnishings and interiors, white goods, small electrical appliances, consumer electronics and clothing.
  • A further nine discussion groupswere facilitated with consumers focussing on particular gaps in the existing evidence base relating to consumers’ reuse of ‘bulky’ household items. The aim was to identify within consumer attitudes and behaviours barriers to and opportunities for the reuse of ‘bulky’ products and where possible to identify the implications these may have for policy. 

Findings
The reports are available to download from the centre column

  • Re-use and repair behaviour in context

    Zero Waste Scotland asked us to explore peoples’ engagement with the reuse and repair sector in the context of local service provision. The research built on our previous research undertaken at a national level, by understanding how the availability and accessibility of local services influences residents’ engagement with reuse and repair.

Brook Lyndhurst Blog

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    This blog was originally written by Brook Lyndhurst for The Guardian Sustainable Business portal. It can be found in its original location here: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/food-waste-eating-out-restaurants In a recent survey most people identified chips as the food they left uneaten and many saw salad garnishes as purely ornamental Photograph: Alamy Q. How many people leave food at the end [...] 

  • Waste prevention 2014

    On Tuesday I spoke at the Westminster Forum event entitled: “Reducing and managing waste: implementing the Waste Prevention Programme and moving towards a ‘zero waste’ economy”. With five minutes to speak, I thought I’d say five things. I decided to make my remarks from a demand side perspective, drawing on a mix of Brook Lyndhurst’s [...] 

  • Shifting energy cultures

    I’ve just come back from researching energy in New Zealand. It turns out there are some pretty fundamental differences in the production and consumption of energy between the UK and  New Zealand. Below are a few examples and accompanying observations and anecdotes regarding possible reasons why this might be the case. At the end I’ll [...]