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TU Berlin

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Obsolescence as a challenge for sustainability

Head of Research

Scientific Staff

Student Assistant

Funded by

Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
Förderschwerpunkt Sozial-Ökologische Forschung


July 2016 – June 2022

Project Partner

  • Forschungsschwerpunkt Technologien der Mikroperipherik in der Fakultät Elektrotechnik und Informatik der TU Berlin (link)
  • Fraunhofer-Institut für Zuverlässigkeit und Mikrointegration IZM (link)

Project Description

Most electric and electronic products of the 21st century have a negative environmental impact during production, use phase and at end-of-life. The current trend is that the use phase of electric products shortens continuously while the number of products per person is growing. This leads to a fast growth of e-waste. A longer use phase can increase the resource efficiency and reduce the environmental impacts significantly. A great deal of discussion revolves around the so-called “planned obsolescence”, a built-in shortage of use phase by functional or qualitative deficits. Other explanations focus psychological obsolescence, the replacement of functioning products by newer ones for lifestyle reasons. Research on these phenomena often focuses either producers or consumers and overemphasizes the role of cognitive aspects and decision making. It still lacks an integrative framework explaining how obsolescence is inscribed in interacting social practices of economic activity, production and consumption.

The five-year interdisciplinary junior research group aims to investigate the multiple and interacting causes of obsolescence in electronics and to develop an integrative “Theory of Obsolescence”. Perspectives from engineering, economic science and sociology will be combined to explain obsolescence in its various forms and to develop strategies to enlarge use phases and reduce the amount of products consumed. The work of ZTG will focus on how theories of social practice as a core concept in this endeavour facilitate a systematisation of phenomena, an understanding of the interaction of different societal practice fields and the identification of starting points and strategies for interventions.

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