By Rose Morrison, managing editor of Renovated
There’s no question that the way the world operates has greatly affected the environment. Things are produced and built without longevity in mind since everything is profit-driven. Earth has finite resources, so it only makes sense that people use them prudently. However, that is certainly not the case. Things are mass-produced and meant to break down quickly, only to be replaced again in an endless cycle of consumption that’s slowly destroying the planet.
Products, machines and structures must be durable to be sustainable. Sustainability and durability seem like separate concepts but are strongly linked. When things last longer, they use fewer resources and energy, thus creating less strain on the environment.
Durability is a key part of promoting a circular economy, which aims to keep materials and products in circulation for a long time. Raw materials aren’t wasted since they are used to their full potential and repurposed once the product’s life span ends.
How does one measure durability from a sustainability standpoint? Does a product simply have to last long? Here are a few factors that determine if a product is durable:
Durable products are made with high-quality materials that are resilient, durable and resistant to wear and tear. They should also be sustainable, renewable and safe for use. The products themselves must be built with durability in mind. The manufacturing process should focus on creating the most high-quality, long-lasting product.
Quality is declining in many industries. One striking example is the clothing sector. Even as early as 2009, when fast fashion started to gain popularity, the average garment is made to last only 10 wearings. With the emergence of super-fast fashion brands, it’s difficult to estimate how quickly people discard low-quality clothes. However, Americans throw away 11.3 million tons of textiles each year. Poor-quality products lead to insurmountable environmental damage.
Another factor to consider is a product’s repairability. Many manufacturers no longer make repairable products. They quickly launch new ones, and people can simply buy another.
Even when people are willing to repair their items, especially tech like cellphones, they can’t. Manufacturers are making it increasingly challenging to fix their products. Americans waste $40 billion yearly on things they can no longer repair.
For instance, smartphones used to have easily replaceable batteries a decade ago. They’re now glued shut, so the entire phone is affected when the battery reaches the end of its life and bloats.
For items to be considered durable, they must be built to be repairable. The repair process must be easy, and parts must be acquirable and affordable. If not, people will continue the cycle of buying, discarding and replacing substandard-quality products.
Recyclability is the ability of a product to be reused or transformed into new items. Recyclables can be collected and processed in a way that’s efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Recycling usually starts with gathering materials from homes or businesses. They will then be processed and sorted, ready for manufacturing.
Recyclability is crucial to a circular economy. Efficiently reusing materials puts less strain on the Earth’s resources. Additionally, it also significantly reduces waste. Items must be made with parts that are widely accepted in recycling centers.
Here’s what durability means in different industries:
Durability in consumer products means items that can withstand daily use and wear and tear. Clothing, home items, appliances and furniture should last for a long time.
Electronic devices must remain functional over an extended period. The hardware should withstand constant software updates and not be rendered obsolete in a short amount of time. Planned obsolescence, which purposefully reduces a product’s life to accelerate sales, should not be applied in any way. It was made illegal in France in 2015 but is yet to be penalized in America.
Durable vehicles can withstand various road and weather conditions associated with regular use. They are made with strong, lightweight materials that help with fuel efficiency and overall durability.
Ironically, one of the most sustainable and durable materials used in cars right now is plastic. It’s strong yet lightweight, helping cars use less fuel to operate. Car manufacturers like Ford and Audi are working toward using more recycled plastics in their automobiles.
Durability in homes requires using sustainable and long-lasting materials. A durable home means you won’t waste things by replacing them every few decades. Items should also be eco-friendly, recyclable and have other significant environmental benefits.
Homeowners might balk at the upfront cost of sustainable and durable materials. However, the return on investment is much greater due to how long-lasting they are. For example, teak shingles can last up to 80 years and increase your property value.
Durability in constructing buildings and commercial areas means utilizing materials that endure time, weather and other natural phenomena. The process should also employ methods that improve the structure’s integrity, safety and stability.
Sustainable construction also means the materials can be reused once the building is demolished. Demolitions account for 90% of all construction waste in America, so the recyclability of building materials is paramount.
What can be done to encourage longevity and support a circular economy? It begins with increased awareness and education. People know they are discarding and replacing things too fast. However, they may not understand the implications beyond what affects them. Educational programs can help them better grasp why they must go for durable products and ask for more from corporations.
Another way to effect change is through policy. The government can enforce mandatory extended warranties to encourage manufacturers to build for longevity. They can also provide better tax incentives for companies that adopt sustainable practices.
Finally, by creating standardized metrics, governments and regulatory bodies can help people gravitate toward long-lasting products. A grading system can pressure companies into making better products and help consumers make informed decisions.
In 2021, France introduced a mandatory standardized Repairability Index, which grades specific products based on repairability. Manufacturers must indicate a score from zero to 10 in each item based on how easy it is to find parts and how simple they are to take apart. This index is a great step toward promoting a circular economy and should be applied to more industries and countries.
People increasingly understand how urgently the climate crisis must be addressed. During this age of rampant consumption, the planet and vulnerable communities suffer. Companies must produce high-quality products meant to last to usher in a new era. More importantly, shoppers must buy products with longevity rather than fall trap to the endless grind of materialism.
About the Author
Rose is the managing editor of Renovated and has been writing in the construction industry for over five years. She’s most passionate about sustainable building and incorporating similar resourceful methods into our world. For more from Rose, you can follow her on Twitter.