Monday, May 17, 2010

Earth Is in the Balance—Someone Tell Lexmark!

You'd think that after contributing to the downfall of the American car industry, planned obsolescence as a design, engineering, and business strategy would be dead, but Lexmark—manufacturers of printers and desktop copiers—seem to be happily placing bets on this incredibly unsustainable idea.

Once upon a time, American car manufacturers thought it was an excellence notion to introduce a new model every year, so that customers would feel compelled to keep up with the Joneses and crave ever larger tail fins.

Planned obsolescence as a marketing strategy eventually was backed up with planned obsolescence as an engineering strategy. Who needs a car to last more than a few years when its body design will be outdated come August? American cars became notoriously unreliable (sabotage by disgruntled employees didn't help). When the likes of Subaru came along, selling reliable models year-in-year out with one basic body design, evolution took over. I had a friend in grad school who put 400,000 miles on his Subaru wagon.

To marketing and engineering obsolescence, add software obsolescence. Take my Lexmark desktop printer. Please. I hooked it up to my new Macintosh the other day and realized I needed to download the driver. The Mac didn't have one for my model. There didn't seem to be one at A phone call to the help desk revealed that my printer—functioning normally as it has done for about four years—is too out-dated to warrant a new driver for Mac OS 10.6.

Planned obsolescence and sustainability are obviously anathema. Luckily, my Lexmark was saved from becoming e-waste because we'd given my old computer to my son, and the driver still lives on that computer. But planned obsolescence will only become obsolete if consumers punish companies such as Lexmark for using this strategy. I'll be looking to another company for my next printer, and will definitely ask about their reliability, software updates, and recycling policies.

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

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