Our relationship with stuff is broken. The world is constantly telling us that we need to have the next great thing, but at the same time the quality of products has gone down. This has led to houses full of clutter, stressed out people who shop for the sake of shopping and get into debt.
Most of the world’s scientist agree that we’ve got an environmental crisis. All of this can be solved with more mindful shopping of the things that we need long term, but the products themselves need to meet that challenge.
It isn’t often talked about but buying for the long term can save a huge amount of energy & pollution and it’s so easy to do. E.g. if you buy a T-shirt that can last 2 years instead of 1 you save 24% of the CO emissions. If you buy once and buy well it means less mining, less factory pollution, less truck pollution and less waste.
There are also many personal benefits to buying for life. When you buy for the long term you naturally think more deeply about what you want from your life which leads to better decision making. You have less stress because the things around you let you down less often. Everything you do own brings you joy so you are surrounded by things that nourish you, serve you well and reflect your values. You also save money in the long term because you have to replace things less often.
Brands are beginning to realise that people want more from them than just cheap and cheerful goods. When companies build great products that last they become classics, the products that are bought as wedding presents or gifted on special birthdays. They inspire customer loyalty generation on generation which in turn helps the company to last longer.
People are looking for reasons to trust brands and there is a lot of marketing spin out there which is not backed up by the strength of the product. People are looking for authenticity and good brand stories and increasingly these are coming through platforms such as Kickstarter where the engineers and manufacturers with a real passion can talk directly with consumer. These companies are able to deliver a better product than if they had gone down a traditional retail route where the marketers and buyers putting them under pressure to reach certain price points.
I believe that people will do the right thing if it’s made convenient and it’s clear what the benefit is to them. By doing all the research and finding the longest lasting and most sustainable products my company BuyMeOnce are making it easy for people to shop in a more sustainable way. We find amazing brands that shoppers may not have heard of and at the same time we campaign to get other companies to up their game and be less short sighted.
Buying for life is the first and arguably most important step towards what is called the circular economy. While governments have focussed on recycling very little effort has been put into the real causes of our environmental crisis which to a large degree is over consumption. Governments don’t want people to stop spending, but our economy must shift in order to become sustainable. Encouraging people to buy long lasting things that can be upgraded and fixed or repurposed should be the focus of environmental and economic policy. Already some countries such as France and Sweden have made great strides. France, with its laws against planned obsolescence and Sweden with its tax breaks on mending show that there is another way for business and the environment to co-exist.
Unfortunately, with people used to paying bottom dollar for goods it is hard to persuade them that higher prices are fair. The growing movement in ethical fashion has started to open people’s eyes to the true cost of cheap clothing and the exploitation of garment workers and this is opening the way to a more ethically aware consumer. At the same time being able to communicate the cost savings of long-term buying is important.
As an example, the average British person buys 1.1 umbrellas a year at a cost of around 10-15 pounds. This means that buying one lifetime umbrella could save a person hundreds of pounds over their lifetime. The data on how long products lasts is hard to come by and often kept close to the chests of companies. Therefore, it’s hard to make this calculation across all categories.
I believe that for companies to be able to compete on quality and longevity rather than being forced to take part in the race to the bottom on price, it’s important that longevity become a part of the buying decision. This can only happen if there is the information available. I am therefore campaigning for all appliance companies to have standardized life-cycle labelling. Imagine going into a shop and being able to tell at a glance how long a kettle can last you… now wouldn’t that be good.