Extending product lifetimes (BEHAVE 2014 Blog Series, 3/4)

More sustainable consumption is likely to mean ‘buying less stuff’ – or, more specifically, acquiring fewer products that deplete finite material resources. If people are to maintain their lifestyles, this will mean changes such as renting goods rather than buying them, and buying second-hand or reconditioned goods rather than new ones.

Our recent survey* results present sobering reading for those attempting to meet this challenge. Invited to consider the prospect that, “in the future it will be a lot easier than it is now to buy reconditioned or second-hand products”, around a third of respondents indicated that they either ‘don’t care much’ or ‘really don’t care’ about this:

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Furthermore, some two-fifths of respondents believe that buying reconditioned or second-hand products will either make ‘not much’ difference or ‘no difference at all’ to the environment:

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Unsurprisingly then, close to two thirds of respondents report either never, or hardly ever, actually buying second-hand or reconditioned electrical goods:

GN3

There are undoubted opportunities for people to be encouraged to change these attitudes, such as by providing guarantees and standards for reconditioned products, but it would appear that citizens are some way from adopting the purchase of second-hand and recondition products as a norm.

An alternative way we might ‘buy less stuff’ is if we keep hold of new products for longer. In recent research for WRAP, we found that, while product ‘lifetimes’ are not a front-of-mind consideration for most people when buying electrical products, they are still held to be important. Often product lifetimes are not explicitly considered in purchasing decisions, but are inferred through other, more salient terms such as quality, reliability and durability. This is particularly applicable to ‘workhorse’ products such as fridges, washing machines and vacuum cleaners. (Our 2011 research for Defra found that mobile phones were usually kept for no more than two years, and computers were expected to last an average of four years).

Importantly, interest in ‘workhorse’ products that can be used at home for longer is not a minority issue confined to a small subset of consumers. Around a half of all consumers in the study for WRAP indicated that they would be willing to pay extra for products that are advertised to last longer. Longer standard guarantees or warranties (such as Kia’s 7 year warranty) and explicit testing of products’ durability (e.g. IKEA’s durability testing procedures [video]) can also build consumer confidence and make the purchase of more durable products more appealing.

[*Fieldwork was conducted on-line in September 2013 with a representative sample of 1,000 GB adults by GfK]

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