From left to right: Melanie Jaeger-Erben, Janis Winzer, Tamina Hipp, Eduard Wagner, Marina Proske, Christian Dickenhorst, Florian Hofmann, Max Marwede
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 stagnates or shortens continuously – despite constant technological progress – while the number of products per person is growing. This leads to a fast increase of e-waste. A longer use phase can increase the resource efficiency and reduce the environmental impacts of electronics significantly. A great deal of discussion revolves around so-called “obsolescence”, a shortage of product lifetimes or serviceable life for functional, qualitative or socio-cultural reasons. Research on these phenomena often focuses either on producers or consumers and overemphasizes the role of cognitive aspects and decision making. It still lacks an integrative framework that reconstructs how obsolescence is inscribed into the material culture of modern societies and the interaction of economic paradigms, production and consumption practices and political frameworks.
The five-year interdisciplinary research group aims to investigate the multiple and interacting causes for shortened product lifetimes and wants to develop an integrative concept to explain the societal production of obsolescence in electronics. 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.
Using an inter- and transdisciplinary approach, the first step is to identify the drivers of obsolescence in the field of electronic products and describe their interaction:
- Consumption practices in the context of short lifetimes as well as acceptance and attitudes towards durable products in different social milieus;
- economic logics and business models that impede a long-term economy;
- product characteristics and typical technical defects that promote short useful lives.
The differentiated presentation of the background to the problem forms the starting point for the development of scenarios, transformation paths and concrete measures that enable long useful lives of electronic products in technical, economic, political and social terms. This includes a test method for measuring quality and reliability, the implementation of which is planned e.g. in product policy instruments. Research is also being conducted on eco-innovative business models and socio-political strategies for the dissemination of durable products and innovative practices such as design for recycling, repair cafés, upcycling or prosuming.
The junior research group is a joint project between the Center of Technology and Society and the Research Center for Microperipheric Technologies (both TU Berlin) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration.
It is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research within the thematic focus of Social-ecological Research from 2016 to 2021.
The members of the junior research group represent complementary disciplines (economics, law, engineering, sociology and psychology), which provide an integrative perspective for both the investigation of drivers and the derivation of change strategies. At the same time, close cooperation with practice partners from business, politics, consumer protection and civil society is intended to identify and activate those actors and target groups from whom processes of change can result.
Dr. Melanie Jaeger-Erben, Sociology and Psychology, Zentrum Technik und Gesellschaft, TU Berlin (Co-leader)
Dr. Janis Winzer, Economical Engineering, Fraunhofer IZM (Co-leader)
Dr. Max Marwede, Economic physicist, Department of Nano Interconnect Technologies TU Berlin (PostDoc)
Tamina Hipp, Sociology, Zentrum Technik und Gesellschaft, TU Berlin (PhD candidate)
Marina Proske, Environmental Engineering, Department of Nano Interconnect Technologies TU Berlin (PhD candidate)
Eduard Wagner, Industrial Engineering, Department of Nano Interconnect Technologies TU Berlin (PhD candidate)
Florian Hofmann, Sustainability Sciences, Fraunhofer IZM and TU Berlin (PhD candidate)
Christian Dickenhorst, Law, Leuphana Universität, Lüneburg (PhD candidate)
Erik Poppe, Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research in Electronics, TU Berlin