From a throw-out to a repair and upgrade economy?

The first time I thought about this was after watching The Story of Stuff. We are currently (more in the global North, but also increasingly in the South) living in a throw-away and consume economy. With resource prices likely to increase dramatically over the next decades, will we see a repair and upgrade economy emerging?

Not sure if it is the fact that I live in Brazil now and see all these small shops specializing in repairs of machines, clothes and other stuff, but I have the feeling that more emphasis on repairing and upgrading could become a trend also in the US, Europe and other rich countries.

A system that values repairing an iron, or a fridge, or a jacket instead of buying a new one? You might argue that for some goods where technological change happens very fast it will not change. But how about building computers, mobile phones and other products that get old after months, in ways that allow to not only upgrade one part (e.g. the harddrive in a PC) but any part that sees performance improvements?

Besides saving resources this could also create a whole new set of jobs that are not as easy to replace by machines than when you are automating a whole production process. These jobs would be created where consumers are living reducing the need for long distance shipping and large production sites.

What would need to change? Companies have to shift their business models from selling more to making it easy to repair and upgrade products. Money will not be made with new designs but with spare parts. This will also require standards that cannot be as easily changed anymore. The shape of a computer chip will have to be the same from generation to generation to allow upgrading.

Is this a realistic scenario? Are there signs out there that would support or contradict this idea? Such a system would just reduce resource use, but not represent a real paradigm shift. What would need to complement such a change for the new system to be truly sustainable?

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2 thoughts on “From a throw-out to a repair and upgrade economy?

  1. Pingback: How to avoid “designed for the dump” « Sustainable Teams: Connecting Voices of Change

  2. Pingback: The disruptive phone | Sustainable Teams

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