The aim of the study is to create a sound data basis for assessing product obsolescence and trends in product lifespan and develop strategies against obsolescence. The analysis confirms that the first useful service-life of most of the product groups has decreased in recent years. The results also show that electrical and electronic equipment is being replaced for many reasons. Material, functional, psychological and economic forms of obsolescence interact and create a highly complex pattern.

Öko-Institut, 2016

Implemented in

  • Europe and Central Asia

Sector of activity
Consumer Goods

Type of initiative
Research, Analysis, Assessment

Start date

Shared by

Siddharth Prakash

Senior Researcher, Division Sustainable Products & Material Flows, Öko-Institut, Germany

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This study sought to develop strategies to counter the obsolescence of electrical and electronic devices based on the analysis of causes. The following objectives were pursued:
(1) Collection of statistical data and analysis of trends on technical life- and use-times of electrical and electronic equipment;
(2) Systematic description of the causes of obsolescence in electrical and electronic equipment;
(3) Conducting case studies for three product groups in order to collect more data and identify measures to achieve extended lifespans or a reliable service life for the selected product groups;
(4) Comparative life-cycle assessment and life cycle costing in three product groups for products with shorter or longer lifespans;
(5) Identification of cross-cutting strategies and instruments against obsolescence and for increasing product lifespans as well as use times and reaching a reliable minimum product lifespan.
The focus in this respect was on technical, product-specific and management-related strategies and solutions. The principle objective was to achieve a reliable minimum life-time or to extend the usage time of electrical and electronic devices.
The strategies proposed in this study to counter obsolescence are intended to remedy the information asymmetries between manufacturers and consumers concerning expected product life-times and usage intensities. The proposed strategies, above all, are intended to oblige manufacturers and the political establishment to increase transparency concerning expected product life-times and to stipulate minimum durability and quality requirements for products, parts and components. On the other hand, consumers too are called on to use products for as long as possible in efforts to preserve resources and the environment. Strategies to counter obsolescence accordingly cannot be implemented overnight. Rather, they should be seen as a duty for society as a whole through cooperation between policy makers, manufacturers, the scientific community and consumers.


As collected through the One Planet Reporting

Output level

Knowledge resource and technical tool

  • Policy advice on strategies against obsolescence and for product life-time extension

Impact and Results

In due consideration of further technological development and innovation with respect to elec-trical and electronic devices, minimum requirements for product life-time and quality represent an important strategy independent of product design and the product group. In view of the fact too that in many cases economic obsolescence leads or can lead to the end of a product’s use, a reliable product life-time, during which repairs are not necessary or needed only in the rarest of cases, seems the right course. To be able to reliably develop and effectively review such minimum requirements, norms and measurement standards are called for.
The “Life-time requirements, standardization and standards definition” strategy consequently represents the core of the superordinate strategies to counter obsolescence.Furthermore, innovative service models of manufacturers (e.g. leasing, buy-back agreements or aftercare treatment) and compulsory minimum requirements on software may help technical product life-times to be achieved in practice (e.g. through reconditioning for further use/reuse, guaranteed repairs by manufacturers or enhanced coordination of software and hardware solutions). Measures to improve consumer information (e.g. ecological benefits of long-life products) and to increase the information obligations of manufacturers(e.g. clear declaration of wear parts) are further important tools in swaying buyers towards long-life products. The analysis of economic obsolescence in this study has shown a risk of low willingness to repair devices in many cases due to high replacement part and labour costs and falling prices for new products. In addition, increasing product complexity and high integration densities in modern products and remote-controlled software-induced fault diagnostics have created major challenges for independent, non-manufacturer-associated repair businesses. Through a strategy intended to improve repairability, it may be possible to create, amongst other things, better framework conditions for the repairability of products and to maintain the independent repair scene in Europe.