Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pondering Manufacturing

For whatever reason I was reflecting this afternoon on a conversation I had awhile back with a friend of the family about manufacturing, quality of goods, and long-term profit seeking vs short-term profit seeking vs liberal ideas. I know, that was a long winded list, but bear with me here.

What got the conversation started was the usual complaint about this or that manufactured diddy from Wal-Mart breaking before you get it out of the store (in this case a plastic attache case thingamajigger whose handle broke off on the way to the checkout line from its own weight). My friend and I both agreed that businesses interested in long term profits have to strike some balance between replaceable goods (so as to have repeat business) and durable, quality goods (so as to make people want said goods in the first place). This is the reason behind the oft-heard "they don't make things like they used to" ... because the companies that made a product that'd last forever didn't have repeat customers.

Which gets me wondering something else...the "green push," so to speak, on manufactured goods is to make things out of materials that decompose quickly, which inevitably leads to deficiencies in terms of durability and reliability. However, what's more environmentally damaging I wonder? Having to change out your appliances and furniture every 5-10 years or having appliances and furniture that last almost or more than the average lifetime? In the first case you have lots and lots and lots of trash (and increasingly more so as population increases) while in the second you still have an increasing number of items to dispose of as population grows, but I should think the rate of growth / population would grow logarithmically instead of exponentially. So, which is better?

Given these two factors, it's only natural that companies, hoping to a) maintain high PR (vis-a-vis being "greener" than the competition) and b) establish a more recurrent need for their product in the market (repeat customers) tend to produce low-quality goods out of quick-decomposition materials. Given the logical conclusion of exponentially more trash to deal with in the future because of these choices, are "environmentalists" really helping the environment with this?

Update 1: Something else relevant that strikes a nerve...all these "I'd Tap That" signs I'm seeing on campus. Wasn't it the environmentalists/nanny staters that got everyone in crisis mode over the pollutants in tap water in the first place, which lead to mass production and popularity of bottled water? More evidence of environmentalism hurting the environment/ecology more than helping it.