Tag Archives: consumerism

Do we need a repairability rating for products?

I am typing this on my 2009 MacBook. My 17 year old stepson upgraded it this weekend with a new (solid state) hard drive and new memory, so it is has been given a new lease of life and hopefully it has a couple more years left in it.

As he was performing the upgrade surgery at the kitchen table, unscrewing the back, taking out the components, replacing them with others, he was telling me about the problem with the new Macs. You can’t upgrade the hard drive and memory. It’s all locked down. So when it’s gone, it’s gone. “And of course that is not very environmentally friendly”, he said.

I was reminded of this this evening, reading the results of a European Commission survey from July this year. Across the EU, 66% of people would be willing to pay more for a product if its guarantee of reliability was extended to five years. More than nine out of ten people think that the expected lifespan of products should be indicated. And almost half of respondents had decided not to have a faulty product repaired in the past 12 months because the repair costs were too high.

I looked up about the unrepairability of Macs. iFixIt gave the new MacBook Pros  1 out of 10 for repairability.

Which lead me to think – we now have energy efficiency ratings for products such as washing machines, ovens etc. Should we have a lifespan and repairability rating for products too? And a recyclability at end of life score.  This is key to the lifecycle impact of a product. We need products made in such a way, as they used to be, that one part can be replaced when it has reached the end of its life, rather than throwing the whole thing away. And we need the leading manufacturers to take responsibility for designing and manufacturing in a responsible way.

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What are the values that ToysRUs is promoting to young people?

 

ToysRUs have recently released this ad. If you haven’t watched it, please do. The main message of it is that nature is boring, shiny plastic is good. Not only is ToysRUs using ads to create demand amongst children for their products, they are also putting out a negative message about nature.

Nature is having a hard enough time to get kids to spend time with her and get to know her (and, of course, we are part of nature, rather than separate from, but that is another argument), without explicitly anti-nature messages being added to the marketing mix.

Given this ad, I thought that I would look up what ToysRUs had to say on the subject of the sustainability, given that they are, in their own words, the world’s leading toy and juvenile products retailer, and you would think that they would at least have a passing interest in the future of the world’s youth. There was nothing to be found in the main navigation or under the About Us section, so I did a search on the site. This is what I found:

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 16.57.21A blank page.

To be fair, there was one other search result for sustainability on their site, a press release about the installation of solar panels on the roof of their warehouse from 2011. I then thought that maybe the information is housed under CSR or Corporate Responsibility. This brought up more responses, but the most relevant ones were about charitable giving. Philanthropy, but not sustainability as we know it.

A recent BBMG survey showed that 78% of Aspirationals are excited by going shopping. And at the same time, 9 out of 10 say that we need to consume less. It is hard for me to understand how we are going to consume less as a society, if we are excited about shopping, as the kids are shown to be in the ToysRUs ad. I engaged in a little bit of a Twitter debate about this, when I said that values needed to change, and I was told that being excited about shopping was not a value. I admit is not a value as such, but to me it is an expression of extrinsic values taking precedence over intrinsic values – seeking fulfilment in that which is outside of ourselves, rather than on the rich resources that lie within us. If companies are really going to help us go down the path of sustainable consumption, then they have an important role in promoting the intrinsic values that are at the heart of any long-term sustained behaviour change.

In the video for the petition against ToysRUs, the little girl says that kids ‘can go out and play in the dirt’. ToysRUs would no doubt counter, in private, ‘Where is the money in that?’ ToysRUs is about providing ‘products for magical playtime memories’ – but we all know the old truth that kids are often more interested in the box than in the product. Children have their imaginations, and being in nature is one of the best ways that children can both express their imagination and have their imagination stimulated. But if ToysRUs wants to exist as a business in the long-term it needs to be looking at how it can provide services as well as products – and helping kids connect with nature could be one of these services.

Clearly, ToysRUs having any kind of public sustainability strategy would be a start. But once they had that in place, they could start to take some responsibility for encouraging the wellbeing of the whole child, which includes being able to enjoy spending time in nature, valuing nature, promoting creativity and imagination and not fostering a reliance on consumption to generate happiness. Whatever you may think of McDonald’s, they are at least using the opportunities that they have to communicate with children through Happy Meals to educate them on nutrition and wellbeing. ToysRUs have a similar kind of opportunity – and after all they do show products in the ad such as a telescope and a bike which are ideal for exploring nature, although lost in the overall message.

When is ToysRUs going to take responsibility for the young people that it purports to stand for? I would like to see ToysRUs developing a sustainability strategy, and at the heart of that strategy would be a commitment to education, and particularly helping children to learn about nature. Companies need to start thinking about the long-term implications of their actions. They have a moral duty of care.

And perhaps ToysRUs could take on a little more of SMCG in its behaviour – Slow- Moving Creative Good – rather than just be about pushing disposable consumer goods. I hope that ToysRUs will listen to the voices that have risen up to express their views about this ad, and will use it as a catalyst to begin to take a stand for the genuine wellbeing of children.

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If you would like to express your views about the ad, you can sign the petition.

The value of values

1303054_Sainsbury_s_values_bananaA supermarket competing on value? Nothing new in that. But a supermarket competing on values? Now, that is a bit more rare.

Sainsbury’s is taking on Tesco’s. The issue is do with the Price Promise made by the supermarkets. The Advertising Standards Association has sided with Tesco saying that a comparison can be made between products purely on the basis of price. Sainsbury’s says that this is misleading, and that ethical considerations should be taken into account as well – otherwise you are not comparing apples with apples, or bananas with bananas.

Sainsbury’s has done the research to show that their customers are interested in where food comes from, and will make purchasing decisions on that basis. 84% of people surveyed who expressed a view agreed that ‘where and how my food is produced are important factors to me in my buying decisions’. Of the total of people surveyed, 24% of people neither agreed or disagreed, 64% agreed and 16% agreed – so for 2/3rds of people it is important.

Price is important, but it is not everything. We need to get away from the mindset of always driving down to the bottom line. At the recent sustainable consumption conference hosted by L’Oréal in Paris, a representative from Pepsi Co asked people in the audience if price was their main motivation behind their purchases – and when everyone in the audience didn’t put up their hand, he asked ‘why not?’ One of the other panelists tried to explain to him that price wasn’t everything, that she liked to make purchases in line with her values as well.

Good luck to Sainsbury’s in the Judicial Review. As brands talk about sustainable consumption and behaviour change, they themselves need to make a stand for what they know is right. And in doing so, they will appeal to those consumers who share their values. That is one of the values of values.