Planned Obsolescence: Is it Ethical? No. Can We Still Have the Newest Gadgets? Yes!

Is Planned Obsolescence Ethical?  Every business should know its position on this important question.  Do you know yours?

Many companies have the technology to make products that last far longer, and choose not to use it. You know what comes next – the products wear out faster and we have to buy them more often. Is that a responsible way to achieve profitability? Here are some opinions on that question (all of which could be used for good leader discussions about how your company deals with the question).

A video overview:  The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard


Is Planned Obsolescence Socially Responsible? by Sharon Beder in Engineers Australia

What is Planned Obsolescence? by

Creative Destruction and Destructive Creations: Environmental Ethics and Planned Obsolescence by Joseph Guiltinan, Journal of Business Ethics

There are environmentally friendly solutions that don’t require that we give up our love for gadgets. This article proposes one way to do it.

How Planned Obsolescence Can Be Good for the Planet by Collin Dunn

What are the Next Steps?

  • Use these resources to get your business thinking about less wasteful ways to deliver products and services.
  • Ask your customers what they think about the changes you come up with.
  • Post a comment here about changes you are making to balance the “newest” gadgets with earth-friendly strategies for making and distributing them.
  • Subscribe to the Leading in Context™ Blog to stay in the loop!



For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?
  7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
  2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
  About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2010 Leading in Context LLC 


  1. Planned obsolescence is part of business. Sort of fits in the definition of the business world; things become obsolete, new things come out daily, etc. Only when it is done too isolate or hold back a certain economic sector of the population, is it un ethical in my opinion.


  2. Ibrahim just said it. The way to fight against waste is to demand things as a service. Say, I want to buy a service, that allows me to surf the internet, chat by voice and video with my distant friends, type some documents and develop computer programs. What would I get? A computer with audio/video equips, some input devices, a printer maybe and an internet connection.. right? and I’d pay.. say 25€/month for this. They will just deliver a working machine with as-less-as-possible maintenance. There “they” have their on-going money flow and I get my job done. They don’t want to waste their money and time coming by to change half-empty cartridges or update the anti-virus software. They want profit. That’s what they would get this way.


  3. Planned obsolescence is just a phase of social and business evolution. Luckily it is currently in the process of being gradually phased out.

    The problem is products. Companies that make products to be sold must make them consumable (with planned obsolescence) for ongoing income.

    The solution is services. For businesses that receive income from ongoing/subscription services, equipment/product repair and replacement costs are business expenses. Inefficiencies and defects must be minimized to reduce the cost of providing the service.

    This is why wired telephone handsets (and utility distribution equipment in general) are typically more reliable (even though more complex) than light bulbs.

    If instead of selling light BULBS a company sold LIGHTING (for a given area or facility or household) as an ongoing/subscription service, with replacement costs included, then it would be in the company’s best interests to minimize bulb replacement by providing longer lasting bulbs.

    Service based businesses tend have lower operating costs than product based businesses because they have fewer manufacturing expenses (fixed costs). When they manage to provide highly efficient, reliable, and long lasting products and systems to support their services, they can make money doing practically nothing. In the long run, service providers tend to be more agile and more likely to survive than manufacturers.

    When LIGHTING is sold as an ongoing/subscription service, bulbs will stop blowing out.

    When HOUSING is sold as an ongoing/subscription service, (with maintenance and repair at the expense of the builder) then buildings will again be built to last.

    When HEALTH is sold as an ongoing/subscription service, with medical costs at the expense of the provider, (users pay only when they are healthy) then we will discover the cure for the common cold.

    It is happening slowly all around us as companies outsource (minimizing fixed costs) the necessary products and equipment to support their services and focus on their core business.

    The rising dominance of ongoing/subscription services within industry tends to drive down related product cost and improve product reliability, as with telephone handsets.

    It likely will not be quick, or smooth, or without serious conflicts and stubborn resistance, yet slowly, surely, and inevitably we evolve.


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