Abstract/Introduction This paper will deal with the problematic relationship between a consumer society and sustainability focusing on consumer electronics and subsequently on the generation of electronic waste
This paper will deal with the problematic relationship between a consumer society and sustainability focusing on consumer electronics and subsequently on the generation of electronic waste (e-waste) and its recycling or disposal. The objective of this thesis is to find conclusive answers to the question as to which specific consumer characteristics are leading to a more sustainable consumption regarding electronic products.
A focus of this thesis is on identifying the manifold causes which led to the status quo, possible solutions and past and future approaches trying to solve this issue. Given that there is very little research done explicitly on this topic articles of several scientific fields will be examined rounding it off the with empirical data gathered by means of questionnaires to reveal new information.
The importance of this topic cannot be overstated, but unfortunately it has not enjoyed a real spot in the limelight which could be due to the public being swayed by technological progress rather than its ecological impact. The blindness to detrimental factors by consumers can be observed in many instances when new technologies emerge, such as smart homes which currently enjoy ever more growing popularity pose significant security risks for owners, which is oftentimes ignored (Fink, Segall and Hanley n.d.).
Classical & Neoclassical Economics have led to the perception that relentless growth and an increase in income is the only way to achieve improvement and progress (Derani, 1997; Daly, 1993). Environmental problems such as overexploitation of resources and the overproduction of waste have been ruled out as mere externalities of our economic system which sees nature as a simple resource for production of goods (Montibeller-Filho, 2008; Leff, 2006).
A large part of my work will be dealing with the phenomenon of planned obsolescence in its various forms and the consequences that have followed it up until today, and how consumers are affected. Planned obsolescence, meaning making products lose their utility and/or perceived value in ever decreasing life cycles has been devised to support the consumer’s attitude of “don’t repair it, replace it”, which is being utilized by industry giants in the car and consumer electronics industry through different strategies (Pope, 2006; Packard, 1960), which will be explained later in detail. In general, Slade (2009) argues that it is evident that longevity and reliability as value propositions have vanished and been replaced with ephemerality, with the first signs of such a shift in behavior in the age of the Great Depression during the early 1930s.
Consequently, I will examine product lifespan in general, trying to find an answer to the question if product lifecycles are really getting shorter, with the conflicting research on it making a definitive answer rather difficult.
This paper will also include research about waste generation and e-waste recycling in different countries including best practices as can be seen in Switzerland and shortcomings in some countries’ practices.
Finally, I want to conclude my research with empirical data collected by means of online questionnaires and contrast my personal findings with the existing literature.
The global consumer electronics market is in an upward trend, and forecasts show a compound annual growth rate between 2014 and 2019 of 2,6% (Marketline, MarketLine Industry Profile: Global Consumer Electronics 2015). In the United states alone, a growth of a whopping 19,3% is expected between 2014 and 2019 (Marketline 2015). This kind of development in a single industry leads to several questions. One of them is to wonder what the driver behind this astounding growth in sales is and how much does our consumption behavior have to do with it. Do we consume faster or do product lifespans get shorter? Another pressing question to find out the answer to is: what happens with consumer electronics after we discard them?
To find answers to these questions, I have assembled a variety of papers and books to gain a better understanding of this vast topic. In terms of my selection the search criteria contained consumption behavior, sustainability, recycling and economics. A valuable source of information was Kamila Popes 2017 book “Understanding planned obsolescence” which contained a comprehensive list of important research done on this topic.
According to Kamila Pope, product cycles of consumer goods are becoming ever shorter as a result of modern-day capitalism which she refers to as the “growthist economy” (Pope 2017). Citing Bustamante (2007), she infers that this economy is defined by believing in the endless amount of physical resources (e.g. raw materials and energy resources) coupled with an “infinite sink for the by-products of consuming these benefits” (Pope 2017, 37).
Furthermore, she describes the contemporary society as consumer society, which itself is defined by Baudrillard (1998) as society which “… needs its objects in order to be.” Therefore “a consumer society can only thrive where it is able to link the idea of happiness to the acquisition of consumer goods” (Pope 2017, 30).
One question I seek to answer which exceeds the possibilities of a literature review is to find out how the situation regarding sustainability of consumption and electronics is today in Austria and if it can confirm the findings I have made reviewing the existing literature. Do people think about what happens with their electronics after they deem them unfit for usage and are their core beliefs about recycling and the environment in accordance with their behavior?
The objective of this literature review is to give an overview of the key topics regarding my research such as planned obsolescence, product lifespan, electronic waste and recycling practices.
Planned obsolescence is a phenomenon describing the process of purposely shortening a product’s life by the producing company to ensure continuous demand. Pope (2017) defines it as “the artificial reduction of the durability of consumer goods to induce consumers to purchase substitute products before they need to and, therefore, more often than they normally would.” Slade (2009) refers to planned (or deliberate) obsolescence as “… the assortment of techniques used to artificially limit the durability of a manufactured good in order to stimulate repetitive consumption.” One of the first mentions comes from the prominent US industrial designer Brooks Stevens, who in 1950 expressed his thoughts on planned obsolescence claiming that the entire US economy relies on this practice and “We make good products, we induce people to buy them, and then next year we deliberately introduce something that will make those products old fashioned, out of date, obsolete. It isn’t organized waste. It’s a sound contribution to the American economy.” (Packard and McKibben 1960).
Slade (2009), calls planned obsolescence an “uniquely American invention” which did not just invent disposable products but the concept of disposability itself and succeeded in making the public accepting it in various aspects of their lives.
Planned obsolescence is by no means a new topic, given that according to Guiltinan (2009) it was an already widely discussed ethical issue over thirty years ago. The best-known critic of this practice is Vance Packard with his critically acclaimed book “The waste makers” (1960) which at the same time constitutes one of the first publications describing this issue in a systemic and comprehensive way. Packard (1960) also defines three distinct ways for products to become obsolete on purpose: quality, function and/or desirability (Pope 2017).
The concept itself emerged in the 1950s, but it is reported that the first occurrence, and therefore the inception, of this phenomenon can be observed in the early 20th century, when electric starter motors emerged and practically overnight made all already manufactured cars obsolete by introducing a new technology. This led to rapid replacement by new models, since consumers unequivocally hated hand-cranking their cars and were relieved after being able to start their engines with the push of a button. This led to a substantial increase in the car market as a whole (Slade 2009).
In terms of classification, this is the oldest form of obsolescence called obsolescence of function or technological obsolescence which Pope (2017) defines as “a strategy that makes a product obsolete with the launch, on the market, of another product, or of the same product with improvements, able to perform the same function as the old one in a more efficient manner.” Slade (2009) considers this as the point which made industrial producers realize the marketing power the introduction of a new technology can generate.
Although by definition this constitutes planned obsolescence, Packard (1960) sees this as the most beneficial type of obsolescence, given that it generally leads to goods of better quality and can therefore, at least theoretically, lead to more eco-friendly or safer products. At this point, it is important to emphasize that obsolescence itself does not automatically infer planned and deliberate obsolescence, as with innovation and changing environments obsolescence can occur for various reasons.
Another famous incident which is seen by some as the beginning of planned obsolescence is the so-called “Phoebus cartel”. In 1924, a group of leading international businessmen from the leading lightbulb producers have come together for a meeting in Geneva. Represented were Germany’s Osram, Netherlands’ Philips and United States’ General Electric among others (Krajewski 2014). Apart from splitting up the worldwide lightbulb market amongst them, the Pheobus cartel succeeded in creating the first occurrence of planned obsolescence by implementing a 1000-hour lifespan for their lightbulbs, a significant reduction considering that lightbulbs could easily operate over 2500 hours at that time, with all the evidence pointing to a decision motivated by profits and increased sales and not by the customers’ needs. The result of this practice was a surge in sales combined with declining production costs and fairly stable prices for consumers amounting to substantial profits for members of the cartel (Krajewski 2014). Due to the inflated prices of lightbulbs consumers were looking to cheap imported lightbulbs coming from Japan, which often were of inferior quality and made up their lower prices by consuming more electricity, resulting in a zero-sum game for the average consumer. The demise of the cartel before WW2 did not result in great changes in the lightbulb market, with most incandescent lightbulbs still having the same limitations they used to have. Although the current phasing out of incandescent lightbulbs for pricier LED lightbulbs promising consumers a whopping 50.000 hours of usage seems positive, it is obviously posing a threat to a similar practice of limiting the lifespan again to the detriment of the buyer. Krajewski (2014) concludes by saying “After all, few people will complain, or even notice, if a bulb burns out 9 years after it is installed rather than 14.”
The Phoebus cartel is a good example for planned obsolescence of quality which Pope (2017) defines as “… when producers deliberately determine the lifetime of their products, developing techniques or materials of inferior quality, anticipating breakage or wear to reduce durability and increase profits and sales.”
Packard (1960) considers these two ways of shortening a products’ lifespan to have “limited utility” and therefore marketers have found another way to achieve the desired result. Pope (2017) defines this practice, otherwise known as planned obsolescence of desirability or psychological obsolescence as “a strategy to make a product outdated as a result of its appearance, its design, making it less desirable.” Another way of looking at this is making a product obsolete despite being still fully functional.
An example of this type of planned obsolescence can be found in the women’s fashion industry, given that here “psychological wants have been most rampant” (Packard and McKibben 1960, 48), but the roots here lie in the 1930s-car industry, with the Ford Motor Company and GM reaching a saturation point in the market, having produced durable cars and therefore experiencing declining sales (Slade 2009).
The first introduction of psychological obsolescence came approximately ten years after the aforementioned electrical starter motors, in 1923, when GM introduced a slightly reworked version of its Chevrolet having altered not much more than the design. This idea has been devised by former executives from the textile and fashion industry who migrated over to GM and deemed it troublesome to wait for technological innovations. The experiment turned out to be successful and has proven that customers are ready to trade up not only for new technology, but also for a new look, a long time before their old cars ceased to function. (Slade 2009)
This taught the industry new ways to induce consumption and due to its undisputed success, it quickly spread to other industries such as the radio and watch industry (Slade 2009). “In manufacturing terms, psychological obsolescence was superior to technological obsolescence, because it was considerably cheaper to create and could be produced on demand” (Slade 2009, 36).
The practice is still common in the car industry today, with manufacturers usually introducing so-called “facelift” versions of their car in the middle of their product life which are usually little more than small aesthetical changes made to keep the model in line with current trends.
Another kind of obsolescence which is widely used in both the automobile and the electronics industry is the so-called postponed obsolescence defined by Pope (2017) as being “when the producer is able to introduce technological improvements in consumer goods, but only does so when the demand for that product on the market decreases or after a certain period of time”. An example for that could be seen in the early days of the smartphone era, when the first iPhones manufactured by Apple came to market and weren’t able to record video, which was heftily used in marketing the third-generation product which was then equipped with this feature.
For this, it might be relevant to discuss the different definitions of lifespan in existence. Babbitt et al. (2009) name three possible definitions:
1. the length of time a product is possessed by its first user
2. the length of time between first purchase of a product from a manufacturer and its processing in the waste management sector
3. the length of time between purchase of a new product by a consumer and the product’s obsolescence (i.e., lifespan of the “primary product” in use)
Therefore, referring to a products lifespan does not automatically refer to the time between buying the product in a store and dumping it in the garbage can, as many electronic devices are either stored for years before finally being thrown out or simply not used anymore but not yet discarded. Therefore, a metric that makes sense for evaluating the lifespan evolution is taking the length of time a product is possessed (and used) by its first user.
Babbitt et al. (2009) argue that the average lifespan of a PC is in steady decline between 1985 and 2000 going from a mean of 10,7 to 5,5 years representing more than a 50% decline. In their discussion, they added a forecast projecting an average lifespan of 3,5 years for PCs in the year 2010 writing: “It is expected that the observed trends of decreasing lifespan, shifting of the obsolescence curves, and a narrowing lifespan range may continue in the future.” (Babbitt et al., 2009).
Opinions on this are far from unanimous, with Bayus (1994) arguing that during his research “no strong empirical support for systematically shrinking product life cycles (at any product market level) is found.”, and that conventional wisdom has this opinion is down to a greater number of new products being introduced over time and the time between those innovations decreasing (B. Bayus 1994).
A study conducted by the German environment agency can be used to illustrate the changing consumer behavior. While the average lifespan for the now practically non-existent CRT-TVs between 2005 and 2006 was at around 11 years, this number declined heavily with the widespread adoption of LCD-TVs which in 2010 had an average lifespan of merely 4,4 years (Prakash, et al. 2016, 82). It is important to note that while the lifespan has gone down, it is not due to more faulty devices which need to be replaced but for the simple reason that consumers wanted a new device even though the old one was still fully functional (Prakash, et al. 2016, 86). In 2012 alone, this constituted the reason for 63% of new TV devices purchased in Germany.
The question hereby remains: What happens after we are done with our products? A 2016 survey asked this question specifically in relation to smartphones during the holiday season, a time of the year during which many people choose to upgrade many of their electronic devices or appliances. The survey yielded interesting results, with only 5% of respondents in 9 countries stating explicitly that they are going to recycle their old smartphone, while the majority would like to trade it in to exchange it for an upgraded device many (22%) usually give it to family and friends, essentially extending the devices useful life (Blancco n.d.).
Naturally, this kind of consumption generates waste which can be problematic. Especially electronic waste, better known under the abbreviation WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) due to its nature of being a combination of different, sometimes hazardous materials, is posing significant challenges to citizens and governments alike.
Apart from that WEEE has other attributes that separate it from other waste “WEEE can be regarded as a resource of valuable metals such as copper, aluminum and gold; when such resources are not recovered, raw materials have to be extracted and processed to make new products, resulting in significant loss of resources and environmental damage necessitated by mining, manufacturing, transport and energy use” (Ongondo, Williams and Cherrett 2011).
WEEE constitutes one of the fastest growing waste fractions (Widmer, et al. 2005). In 1994 estimates suggested that around 20 million PCs have become obsolete. A figure which by 2004 increased five-fold to around 100 million PCs becoming obsolete per year (Widmer, et al. 2005) amounting to around 35 million tons. EU countries alone dispose of approximately 6.5 million tons of WEEE every year (Ongondo, Williams and Cherrett 2011) combined with an estimated growth every 5 years of 16-28% (Dalrymple, et al. 2007). Given that the forecast made by the United Nations University (2018) has predicted a steady growth of per capita electronic waste generation as can be seen in Table 1 further emphasizes the gravity of this issue.
In terms of where most of the worlds e-waste is generated, different views can lead to different conclusions. In total numbers, China and the United states are by far the countries with the most e-waste generated, with the second-placed United States generating three times the amount of third placed Japan. Nonetheless, seen from another perspective, the conclusion changes drastically given that the kg per capita of generated e-waste is the highest in Germany, followed by their neighbor France (United Nations University n.d.)
Therefore, the environmental impact of unsustainable consumption of electronic devices is not to be underestimated. Industrialized countries exporting their WEEE to developing countries with loose environmental laws such as India and China leads to even more dangers for the environment and health, with Germany being heavily criticized for this practice in 2008 for an estimated 155.000 t exported (Salhofer, et al. 2016). When WEEE or e-waste is burned toxic pollutants are released into the air and if they are buried they eventually can poison the groundwater (Slade 2009, 261).
Looking at the recycling behavior specifically in Austria over the years, statistics (Eurostat 2018) show a notable 9.9% drop of the recycling rate between 2008 and 2009. Fortunately, after 2009 a steady growth has been observed which leads to the belief that more awareness is created, and more institutions are put in place to ensure that consumers recycle their electronics properly after their useful life.
A best practice example – the Swiss model
Switzerland has initiated two recycling systems for WEEE to tackle the issue of the growing waste production: the SWICO Recycling Guarantee, created in 1993 by the Swiss Association for Information, Communication and Organization Technology, and the S.EN.S (Swiss Foundation for Waste Management) system, established in 1990 as non-profit organization on behalf of manufacturers, importers and retailers, with each system covering different parts of WEEE (Hischier, Wäger und Gauglhofer 2005).
A complete take-back and recycling system has been established by those two organizations financed by an Advanced Recycling Fee (ARF). These fees that get passed on to distributors and retailers are finally paid by the consumers with the purchase of any EEE. The benefit for consumers is that they can then bring back obsolete electrical devices free of charge to any collecting point. The money that is paid by the consumer to the retailer is then paid to the respective organization which uses it to reimburse collectors, transporters and recyclers (Streicher-Porte 2006). The calculation of those fees is handled annually in an open and transparent manner, with the organizations publishing exact costs a consumer has to pay for different product categories (SENS 2017).
This take-back scheme has one major drawback. The two organizations are now confronted with taking on the recycling for obsolete EEEs that have been purchased before the ARF was in place, and therefore those costs need to be calculated into the current ARFs. (Streicher-Porte 2006)
Planned obsolescence in practice – Apple and its products
Apple, the California-based tech company and one of the most valuable brands in the world, has in the past often been the target of accusations of shortening their products life cycles on purpose. This paper already illustrated the different types of planned obsolescence strategies and one can argue that most, if not all of them, can be found at some point to be used by the US tech company.
When it comes to their main product, the iPhone, which constitutes between 55% and 69% of their entire revenue between 2015 and 2017 (Apple, iPhone sales share of Apple’s total revenue worldwide from 1st quarter 2009 to 4th quarter 2017. 2017) it has been released annually since 2008 with occasionally very little upgrades to the preceding model.
Apple made use of postponement obsolescence in the first few models by retaining a few features which could have been implemented already, like video recordings, but its most obvious strategy is psychological obsolescence making last years’ model seem redundant and outdated through clever marketing and presentation. Even though the life expectancy of a smartphone is around 4,7 years (CTA 2014), people tend to buy newer models after around two years due to this practice (Manning 2016) (Rodriguez, et al. 2015).
However, in late 2017 another strategy has been confirmed by the tech giant which has long been assumed by many of Apple’s customers: deliberately slowing down older iPhones to induce spending on a newer model. Apple claimed this strategy has been implemented to “prevent unexpected shutdowns” (Smith 2017). Apple reacted by slashing the costs for replacement batteries by more than 50% and promising to work on the issue, but still couldn’t prevent numerous class-action lawsuits from happening.
When it comes to repairing devices Apple (similar to other high-tech companies like Samsung) has gone to substantial lengths to ensure that broken parts are being exclusively replaced by the company itself and not by third-party firms or by the customers themselves. The evolution in this context is most evident when looking at their MacBook product line. Given their sturdiness and durability, MacBooks are not the company’s priority with their revenue share being somewhere between 9% and 13% between 2015 and 2017 (Apple, statista.com 2017). This is also evident in the more inactive updating of their notebook lineup which caused some frustration with their customers. (t3n.de 2016)
Looking back at MacBooks between 2006 and 2012, those devices had batteries which were easily removable and RAM storage which could be expanded without any hitch or technical knowledge. iFixit.com, a website specialized in providing repair equipment and manuals for different kinds of electronics, has a score-based system to assess a devices’ reparability going from one (very troublesome repairs) to ten (fairly easy to repair). The earliest MacBook having been assessed by this system is from 2012 and has a iFixit score of seven out of ten. Fast forward to 2016 and looking at the newest MacBook Pro, one can see how the ability to repair the notebook at home has suffered, with the RAM storage now soldered inseparably to the logic board making it impossible to upgrade retroactively, and the battery cemented inside with industrial strength glue otherwise used to fixate windows in skyscrapers (Aladeojebi 2013).
This development is well illustrated by following the iFixit scores over the years, with annually sinking “reparability scores” for MacBooks until 2016, the year the latest model line-up was released, all having scored merely one out of ten. This history combined with the exorbitant prices charged by Apple for replacements and repairs leads to the conclusion that even if the notebooks manufactured by the California company remain durable, the devices are produced with the goal in mind that the inevitable repairs which occur after several years of usage should only be made by Apple themselves.
It should be noted that, while Apple is used as an example here, that the company is not alone, and some of its competitors have managed to score even lower in terms of reparability, with Microsoft having products that have been awarded a ‘zero’ by the website, described as “impossible to open without destroying it” (iFixit.com 2017).
The antithesis or an impulse in the opposite direction – the “Fairphone”
It has to be acknowledged that manufacturing a smartphone or a similar product is a complicated process from a supply chain perspective with over 40 different minerals needed for the essential functionality of a phone and the large number of other components and parts each with their own supply chain (Wernink and Strahl 2014). This complexity leads to a certain kind of opacity about the components’ origin which consumers can easily confuse with them being unproblematic in their production from a social or environmental perspective. Conflict minerals, which are sold to fuel social conflicts in developing countries, used for the production of smartphones are a well-known example of the issues surrounding unsustainable sourcing processes for electronics.
Enter Fairphone, a project devised jointly by NGO’s and companies with the goal to create a phone which “addresses the increasing human and environmental costs of technology and what actually goes into the making of a product.” (Wernink and Strahl 2014)
The Fairphone is devised with longevity and reparability in mind with a unique modular system that allows consumers to easily, and at fairly low costs, repair their phone if any part of it breaks. This includes batteries, camera modules, display modules and even small parts such as speakers, the camera flash and earpieces which in competitive products often require the entire front of a phone to be replaced due to all parts being inseparably glued together.
To reduce the environmental impact, the phone is shipped without a charger since it can be charged with standard USB cables asking their customers to “check if they have fitting chargers before ordering one”. Furthermore, the first batch of Fairphones charged a premium of 3€ which was used to set up projects in countries where safe recycling of electronic waste does not yet exist. By collaborating with another company, they sent old phones to Belgium to scrap them appropriately at a recycling plant and using the extracted minerals from the waste in the production of the next batch of Fairphones. (Wernink and Strahl 2014)
Another step to ensure the sustainability of their product was to maximize the transparency of their suppliers, trying to depict as detailed as possible the origins and travel routes of the materials used in their phone. It goes without saying that the company is trying to source only conflict-free minerals.
The people behind this project are not trying to be “less bad” than their competitors but rather try to be a best-practice example for the industry to follow.
Consumer electronics and fast fashion – a comparison
The current direction consumption of electronic goods is heading in can be compared to the development the fashion industry has undergone in the last few decades. Referring to the term as “fast fashion” Joy, et al. (2012) describe in their research the current set of consumption-inducing practices in the fashion industry in bringing products faster to market and disposing of them more quickly by deeming today’s fashion outdated by tomorrow. More precisely, fast fashion describes the trend of low-cost clothing collections based on expensive luxury fashion.
This similarities between the two industries are obvious: “The fast fashion industry—in common with the technology industry, which similarly produces a constant stream of ever-improved, ever more alluring, products—exists courtesy of such impulsive behavior, employing the planned obsolescence practices.” (Joy, et al. 2012). The fashion industry is often seen as the embodiment of ephemerality and obsolescence with Joy, et al. (2012) arguing “Fashion, more than any other industry in the world, embraces obsolescence as a primary goal”.
This leads to the contradictory practice of “mass exclusivity” (Schrank 2004) which refers to the consumers’ urge to possess clothes in line with current trends inspired by luxury brands but sold at cheap prices which are usually disposed after a short amount of time. The incentives for this lightning-fast psychological obsolescence are self-explanatory with fast fashion chains typically earning substantially higher profit margins of around 16 percent compared to their traditional counterparts with about 7 percent (Sull and Turconi 2008).
The dichotomy between a sustainable mindset and sustainable consumption
The empirical research conducted by Joy, et al. (2012) lead to a somewhat expected but nonetheless astounding result: young consumers who are convinced of the perks of environmentalism and recycling and aware of the impact unsustainable behavior has on nature, do usually disconnect from this mindset completely when shopping for clothes. They continue by stating: “The bulk of the data suggest that young people separate fashion from sustainability. They definitely support the idea of sustainability, but do not apply such ethics when it comes to sustainable fashion.” (Joy, et al. 2012)
“Consumers … while concerned about the environmental and social impact of their non-fashion purchasing decisions, did not apply such principles to their consumption of fashion” (Joy, et al. 2012).
The disposability is not only playing a “key role” (Joy, et al. 2012) with manufacturers openly admitting that the benchmark for most of their clothing is around ten washes before an item is tossed out caused by the low-quality materials used for producing it. Consumers don’t seem to take big issues with this, given that it is not uncommon to throw clothes out after wearing them only once or not at all, since between the time of purchase and now the trend has changed and so the purchased clothes have fallen from grace.
As already mentioned, high margins are incentive enough for producers and sellers to maintain the status quo, but what are the reasons for the disconnect between sustainable thinking and sustainable consumption in the fashion industry? The answer is rather simple: Green fashion is neither very well known, nor affordable, and when it is it usually lacks the style, making it less appealing to young consumers.
The research method for this thesis can be divided into four parts.
1. Literature research
In the first part, scientific articles and websites for the literature review have been used mainly by reviewing scientific databases with keywords such as recycling and consumer behavior regarding electronics but also fashion. Well-known books written about the topic of planned obsolescence and consumption have been used to round off the literature.
2. Empirical research
The second part includes empirical research conducted for this paper via quantitative questionnaires distributed online. The questionnaire was designed mainly with rating scale questions in which respondents were asked to state either “strongly disagree” or “strongly agree” on a scale from one to five, with five meaning “strongly agree”. Some questions had swapped the two arguments for “always” and “never” but nevertheless used the same range from one to five. Few questions were designed with only two options (‘Yes’ or ‘No’).
To collect demographic data, open questions have been added asking for age and occupation, combined with multiple choice questions regarding the place of living. The full questionnaire which has been distributed can be found in the appendix.
The advantages of such a study are that it is less time consuming to gain data of a high number of participants compared to direct face-to-face interviews. The data is also useful since it is easily quantifiable and can therefore be measured effortlessly. It is clear that answers to a questionnaire can be more biased in one direction, to preserve a certain image of oneself, than would be possible in a direct interview.
To devise the questions, I have used the Handbook of marketing scales (Bearden and Netemeyer 2011), which supplied me with the adequate questions and dimensions. To measure the environmental responsibility, I have used the Ecoscale devised by Stone, Barnes and Montgomery (1995). The underlying hypothesis hereby was that people are, in general, aware to the environmental impact of their actions, and detrimental factors.
To examine the relationship participants have with technology and their knowledge of this industry I used the Technology Readiness Index (TRI) by Prasuraman (2000).
Finally, as a third factor I wanted to consider the buying behaviour and therefore used a dimension to measure compulsive consumption devised by O’Guinn and Faber (1989) and the Material Values Scale by Richins (2004). The hypothesis: The buying behaviour of people is unsustainable and is not limited to fashion anymore but also applies to technology.
The main objective I had in mind while devising the questionnaire was to find out if the behaviour that is observable from the questionnaire results is in line with the existing literature. A secondary objective is to confirm the dichotomy between mind-set and actual behaviour that has been observed in research regarding “fast fashion” to exist also for the consumption of electronic products.
3. Data Analysis
The results were tested by using the logistic binomial regression regarding the opening question of the questionnaire. First, a Hosmer-Lemeshov test is conducted to evaluate the goodness-of-fit of the chosen dimensions. Results are reported as statistically significant at the 5 per cent level or better.
In the third part, all results accomplished by the research conducted will be reviewed together as to refute or confirm existing research.
Technology readiness 3,31
Compulsive consumption 2,33
Material Values 2,96
1. The sample
Of the 70 answered surveys, there were 51% female and 49% male respondents. In terms of education, 60% had university education with a completed degree, 17% without a completed degree and 16% with a high school diploma. 86% of the surveyed did grow up in a city or urban area with only 6% of Austrian respondents not having their main place of living in a city today. In terms of age, the majority of participants (79%) were between 22 and 27 years old.
2. The factor environment
The environmental dimension is intuitively most strongly correlated with the environmental awareness when buying electronics, therefore it is slightly surprising that only one question, “It is important to me that the products I use do not harm the environment” yielded statistically significant (p