Longer Lasting Products. Alternatives to the Throwaway Society

David Bishop (Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 1 November 2011

1010

Keywords

Citation

Bishop, D. (2011), "Longer Lasting Products. Alternatives to the Throwaway Society", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 20 No. 7, pp. 558-559. https://doi.org/10.1108/10610421111181877

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


It used to be said that a consumer's prime role in society was to consume. Some manufacturers aided consumers in this noble task by building in obsolescence to products so that, once you had all you wanted it was suddenly not what you wanted and you had to consume something different.

Longer Lasting Products is a selection of essays on various topics concerned with alternatives to a “Throw‐Away” society. The wastage associated with “throw away” comes in two main forms: Items that are designed to not last as long as they might and items that will last much longer but marketers persuade consumers that they want something “better”.

The book is composed of 17 chapters, most of which could easily be made into books in their own right. Cooper's introductory notes, in Chapter 1, explain how each chapter contributes to the whole. This reviewer actually started in the middle of the book, after reading the introductory chapter. Because some parts of the book cover topics that a marketer might not be very familiar with it is suggested that such a reader start at Chapter 11 (p. 233), written by Ken Peattie and entitled “Rethinking marketing”.

Chapters 2‐7 cover issues having to do with design for longevity:

  • “Re‐evaluating obsolescence and planning for it” (Brian Burns).

  • “Subject/object relationships and emotionally durable design” (Jonathan Chapman).

  • “Defying obsolescence” (Miles Park).

  • “Understanding replacement behaviour and exploring design solutions” (Nicole van Nes).

  • “Adjusting our metabolism: slowness and nourishing rituals of delay in anticipation of a post‐consumer age” (Alastair Fuad‐Luke).

  • “Durability, function and performance” (Walter Stahl).

Chapters 8‐10 look at public policy and product life‐spans:
  • “Durability and the law” (Cowan Ervine).

  • “The law on guarantees and repair work” (Christian Twigg‐Flesner).

  • “Policies for longevity” (Tim Cooper).

Chapters 11‐13 discuss issues to do with marketing longer lasting products:
  • “Rethinking marketing” (Ken Peattie).

  • “Marketing durability” (Tim Cooper and Kirsty Christer).

  • “Can durability provide a strong marketing platform?” (Dorothy Mackenzie, Tim Cooper and Kenisha Garnett).

The final section, chapters 14‐17, discusses product use and reuse:
  • “Consumer influences on product life‐spans” (Sian Evans and Tim Cooper).

  • “Product life cycle management through IT” (Mathew Simon).

  • “There are times and places: systems and practices in the domestic processing and reuse of packaging” (Janet Shipton and Tom Fisher).

  • “Extending product life‐spans: household furniture and appliance re‐use in the UK” (Anthony Curran).

Taking the perspective of a marketing manager: Should marketers be concerned about how long a product lasts? Should the relationship between seller and buyer continue any further than an evaluation of the last stage in a consumer purchasing process, the post‐purchase behaviour stage? Without mentioning it in great detail, this book seems to touch on relationship marketing, focusing on the relationship between producers and consumers. In the past it was a relatively short stage as the producers continued on the helter‐skelter search for more customers or to persuade existing customers to buy more. “Non‐returnable” and “disposable” were once positive marketing terms. Now people have started to notice the rubbish heaps and landfills spreading over the landscape and the islands of plastic floating in the oceans. Suddenly a “throwaway society” is a bad thing. And it is not just worn out material that is being wasted, the waste includes many products which still have large amounts of potential use in them.

Managers, especially marketing managers, should read this book. Some may have been lucky, or wise, enough to have read and studied business widely so that they are aware about issues regarding sustainability. Those not up to speed need to catch up fast.

First, older marketers and those who manage, teach, and mentor marketers need to re‐think what marketing is: “Marketing has been under pressure to change, to become more environmentally orientated, materially efficient and sustainable, for most of the last twenty years. In general, however, the conventional marketing paradigm has proven remarkably resilient. Instead of changing to create pathways to sustainability, it has largely endured and often acted as a barrier to change” (p. 243)

Ken Peattie traces the history of the development of marketing thinking in terms of sustainability. The growth of the Green Movement in the 1990s is outlined, as is the notion that acting Green and not behaving as conventional manufacturers had for generations might be a viable proposition. “The notion that the two could go together gradually became accepted wisdom and has since become entwined with a wider debate about corporate social responsibility and the protection of brand reputation” (p. 245).

There is discussion on how, for example, visitors from outer space might view modern economies: In essence they would see mankind digging resources from the ground, processing them inefficiently, polluting the environment, and then returning the products, often only partially used, to the earth. Who is to blame? Is it the manufacturers and their marketers or is it the consumer? Peattie seems to be saying that consumers are not to blame, although while thinking they are “Kings”, they are in reality manipulated by marketers, even if a non‐manufacturing marketer is influencing them as, in the case of Friends of the Earth who, in 1971, persuaded Schweppes customers to return “non‐returnable” beverage bottles to the company's head office. (It came as a shock to the company – I know, as I was a junior product assistant who witnessed people dumping thousands of non‐returnable bottles on Cadbury Schweppes” doorstep.)

The chapter on re‐thinking marketing suggests that there is an urgent need to reset marketing objectives, beyond conventional targets. The whole marketing mix may need to be rethought in some organisations. In particular a whole new approach may be needed to how we view product life cycles. Marketers may think more about “price”, beyond setting an acceptable price and focussing more on overall cost in terms of impact on consumers and the environment. Similarly with “Place,” where issues associated with reverse logistics will need to be grappled with.

The Brundtland Report (WCED, 1987) is referred to often as a source of thinking on issues of sustainability. The key problems to resolve appear to be those raised by the “Pursuit of ever higher levels of economic growth through consumption. Ironically, society will also struggle to change and embrace sustainability principles while consumer marketing remains such a powerful and seductive force within it” (p. 265). This may require the overturning of one of the implied foundations of modern democratic economies “If people want products and can afford them, then they should be entitled to buy them even if they are liable to harm the user (as in the case of cigarettes) or the environment on which we all depend” (p. 264). Therein lies the problem: Most consumers seem to want ever‐decreasing prices and technological improvements. Problems of sustainability are someone else's!

Somebody has to take responsibility for this issue. As Peattie puts it “a new and more sustainable form of marketing is needed as part of a transition to a more sustainable society” (p. 265). The other contributors provide evidence‐based insights to many of the broader issues that marketers, and managers in general, will need to understand as the run‐out of natural resources impacts more and more on society. Longer Lasting Products, covering as it does issues not usually considered in great depth by marketers, appears to be a useful addition to the literature on the subject.

Further Reading

World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (1987), Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, Oxford, (The Brundtland Report).

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