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Resisting Throwaway Culture—The Role of Consumers for Achieving Sustainable Product Lifetimes

Short lifespans and premature replacement of consumer goods both contribute to and reinforce socio-environmental problems caused by current systems of production and consumption, notably excessive waste and carbon emissions. In response, increased product longevity has been proposed as an important lever for change (Cooper 1994, 2010; Heiskanen 1996). Despite criticism of premature obsolescence, identifying appropriate lifetimes is not always straightforward (Burns 2010). Product longevity discourse is now long established and multidisciplinary from design research to social sciences and business studies (see, for example, Kostecki 1998, van Nes & Cramer 2006, Luchs & Kumar 2017, Cooper et al., 2015).

While public criticism of industry practices concerning product lifetimes is common, researchers have more often focused on the influence of consumers (Cooper 2004, Evans and Cooper 2010), in particular their emotional attachment to products (Mugge et al. 2009, Niinimäki & Armstrong 2013). This influence takes place at different phases of a product’s lifetime. For example, consumers may prefer more or less durable products at the point of purchase, they choose whether or not to handle products with care and maintain them carefully (Harmer et al. 2019), and they keep products as long as they are functional or discard them prematurely.

Evidence suggests that they often dispose of items such as clothing or electronic devices even if they still work, due to functional inadequacies, economic or fashion-related reasons or situational factors (Goworek et al. 2013, Jaeger-Erben & Hipp 2017). They sometimes use minor malfunctions and imperfections to “excuse” new purchases and are more careless with devices when upgrades are available (Belazza 2017, Wieser et al. 2015, Jacoby et al. 1977). Indeed, it is far from certain that consumers are as dissatisfied with product lifetimes as is sometimes assumed (Gnanapragasam et al, 2018).

This Virtual Special Issue focuses on ways of addressing the throwaway culture and on social practices and consumer behaviours that affect product longevity. Research papers are invited that, for example, deal with different forms of responsible, ethical or ‘sufficient’ consumption, with practices and communities of repair, or with design and service strategies that facilitate the consumption of longer lasting goods. Further topics may include strategies to counter “psychological obsolescence”, to reinforce product attachment, or enhance consumers’ capabilities to maintain and care for products. Empirical research is particularly invited but conceptual and theoretical contributions are also welcome.

Guest Editor

Professor Tim Cooper

Professor of Sustainable Design and Consumption, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, Nottingham Trent University, UK

Guest Editor

Professor Melanie Jaeger-Erben

Chair of Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany


product lifetimes

consumer behaviour

social practice

product attachment

responsible consumption



Bellezza, Silvia; Ackerman, Joshua M.; Gino, Francesca (2017): “Be Careless with That!” Availability of Product Upgrades Increases Cavalier Behavior Toward Possessions, J Mark Res 54/5, pp. 768-78

Burns, B (2010). Re-evaluating Obsolescence and Planning for It. In: Cooper. T (Ed.), Longer Lasting Products: Alternatives to the Throwaway Society. Gower, Farnham

Cooper, T. (2004). Inadequate life? Evidence of consumer attitudes to product obsolescence. Journal of Consumer Policy, 27(4), 421-449.

Cooper, T. (1994). The durability of consumer durables. Business Strategy and the Environment, 3(1), 23-30.

Cooper, T., Braithwaite, N., Moreno, M. and Salvia, G. (eds.) (2015) Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) Conference proceedings, Nottingham, 17-19 June 2015. Nottingham: CADBE, Nottingham Trent University.

Cooper, T. and Salvia, G. (2018) Fix it: barriers to repair and opportunities for change. In: Crocker, R. and Chiveralls, K. (eds.), Subverting Consumerism: Reuse in an Accelerated World, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 147-165.

Evans, S. and Cooper, T. (2010). ‘Consumer Influences on Product Life-Spans’, in Cooper, T. (2010) (contributing editor) Longer Lasting Products, Farnham: Gower.

Gnanapragasam, A. Cole, C. and Cooper, T. (2018). Consumer perspectives on longevity and reliability: a national study of purchasing factors across eighteen product categories. Procedia CIRP, 69, 910-915.

Goworek, H., Fisher, T., Cooper, T., Woodward, S. and Hiller, A. (2013). Consumers’ attitudes towards sustainable fashion: clothing usage and disposal. In: Gardetti, M.A. and Torres, A.L. (eds.) Sustainability in Fashion and Textiles, Sheffield: Greenleaf, pp.376-392.

Harmer L., Cooper T., Fisher T., Salvia, G., and Barr C. (2019). Design, Dirt and Disposal: Influences on the maintenance of vacuum cleaners. Journal of Cleaner Production 228, 1176-1186.

Heiskanen, E. (1996). Conditions for Product Life Extension. National Consumer Research Centre Working Papers 22: 1996, Helsinki.

Jacoby, Jacon; Berning, Carol K; Dietvorst, Thomas F. (1977). What about Disposition? J Mark 41/2, pp. 22-28

Jaeger-Erben, Melanie and Hipp, Tamina (2018). All the rage or take it easy – Expectations and experiences in the context of longevity in electronic devices. Descriptive analysis of a representative online survey in Germany. Obsolescence Research Group (Ed.), OHA texts 1/2018.

Kostecki, M. (ed.) (1998). The Durable Use of Consumer Products. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Luchs, M.G. & Kumar, M. (2017). “Yes, but This Other One Looks Better/Works Better:” How Do Consumers Respond to Trade-Offs Between Sustainability and Other Valued Attributes?” Journal of Business Ethics, 140(3), 567–84.

Mugge, R., Schoormans, J. P., & Schifferstein, H. N. (2009). Emotional bonding with personalised products. Journal of Engineering Design, 20(5), 467-476.

Niinimäki, N. & Armstrong, C. (2013). From pleasure in use to preservation of meaningful memories: a closer look at the sustainability of clothing via longevity and attachment, International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 6(3), 190-199.

Van Nes, N., & Cramer, J. (2005). Influencing product lifetime through product design. Business Strategy and the Environment, 14(5), 286-299.

Wieser, Harald; Tröger, Nina; Hübner, Renate (2015): Die Nutzungsdauer und Obsoleszenz von Gebrauchsgütern im Zeitalter der Beschleunigung. Eine empirische Untersuchung in österreichischen Haushalten, AK Wien, Vienna.

Submission Deadline: 30 April 2020

Online Submission

Manuscripts should be submitted online through Hapres Online Submission System. Please visit Guide for Authors before submitting a manuscript. Authors are encouraged to submit a paper as soon as it is ready and don’t need to wait until the deadline. Submissions will be sent to peer-review in order of arrival. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the Journal of Sustainability Research and then gathered together on the special issue webpage. We welcome Research articles, Review papers and Short Communications.

See Papers Published in This Special Issue (7 papers)


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