Gatineau Monde lecture series: Fighting Obsolescence
Reuel S. Amdur
When we asked Annick Girard if we could take her picture, she said yes, but she wanted to pose before some plants for the shot. We were at Gatineau’s Maison du citoyen, and she was there to speak on September 19 to a Gatineau Monde audience on the topic of “Obsolescence: what is the consumer’s role?”
Girard is part of the Équiterre organization which works to encourage individuals, organizations, and governments to “make ecological choices that are both healthy and equitable.” Her role in the organization is to promote education and mobilization on behalf of its objectives of favouring policies and practices leading to a low-carbon economy and freedom from toxic substances.
France, she told the audience, has a law against manufacturing goods that are designed to wear out after a certain time—planned obsolescence. Epson, makers of computer printers, has found itself to be the target of actiwon by the French government under this law. While she would like to see other governments implementing such laws, legal action in such cases is challenging and can take a very long time.
She defined obsolescence as depreciation before the material is used up. It takes various forms. Technological obsolescence is built in at the factory or is created by making something incompatible with something else. Economic obsolescence occurs when repair is very expensive, especially compared to replacement. Then there is psychological obsolescence. Everyone wants the latest iPhone. Consumers replace a perfectly good refrigerator with another with a colour that they prefer, perhaps something that matches the general décor.
All of this obsolescence leads to overconsumption, too much waste, and a heavy carbon footprint. She pinpoints responsibility broadly for addressing the problem. Consumers need to adopt habits of responsible consumption. Businesses need to eliminate doubtful practices, including in marketing. Governments should adopt and vigorously enforce laws addressing planned obsolescence and overconsumption.
Girard would like to see more reliance on active transportation such as walking and biking and on mass transportation rather than use of the automobile. And rather than throwing out things that have some defect but still have a substantial potential, we need to focus on repair. One approach is the repair café, a local meeting place where people gather to repair household items, computers, clothing, bicycles, etc., helping one another in the undertaking. She spoke favourably of organizations such as the Ottawa Tool Library, which makes tools available to members for self-help tasks.