Creating a Repair Society

Policies, networks and people

A vision for a Repair Society

image: John Towner

Efforts to upscale repair activities can be seen across the globe. “Right to Repair” bills that obligate manufacturers of consumer electronics to make available parts, tools, and information needed for repair, continue to be introduced in the US, Canada and Australia. In the EU, the latest Ecodesign regulations contained similar requirements for OEMs, and several member states are introducing other legal mechanisms to combat product obsolescence and other efforts to make repair more financially feasible (i.e., lowering taxes on repair services – see our earlier report on such examples in the Swedish context.).  

As these efforts move forward, two aspects have become increasingly important: first, the representation and influence of key stakeholder perspectives; and second, clarity regarding the end-goal of repair upscale initiatives. To avoid future unintended consequences, we must seek to understand more fully, the possible future states and the implications of innovation, and we must engage all relevant stakeholders in the development of this vision for upscaled repair. 

In a Circular Economy, a “CE Repair Society” constitutes the end-goal with regards to repair. Here, an optimized level of repairs are taking place (i.e., all repairs that are desirable from an economic and environmental perspective are conducted) in a system that accommodates key social elements (i.e., cost-effectiveness and accessibility). 

To distinguish the key features of such a society, we drew from literature on barriers to repair, cultures (past and present) that emphasize repair, and  models of alternative consumption. To understand and evaluate these findings comprehensively (i.e., from a systems-perspective), we developed the Repair Society Framework.

This framework consists of the micro-level (i.e., the individual’s experience of repair), meso-level; (i.e., infrastructure, business, and culture), and macro-level (i.e., overarching economic systems and culture). By organizing our findings into this Framework, the key features of a CE Repair Society began to emerge. Key elements of a CE Repair Society at the micro-level ranged from individuals’ perception of brokenness as merely temporary (vs. final), functionality as existing on a span (vs. a binary “functioning” or “not functioning” status), and a commitment to care for one’s belongings as a way to avoid waste impacts and preserve value. At the meso-level, the organization of repair can be an entrepreneurial business venture, or an innovative initiative to either bring a device back to working-order, or to create something new. At the highest macro-level it was clear that the current notion of “progress” as a function of accelerating growth must be redefined, and the role of technology and material objects are economic tools, reassessed. 

Engaging relevant stakeholders in this process, and in the development of an end-goal of repair upscale, is critical. In addition to further exploring and validating our findings on key features of a repair society, we invite feedback on the proposed Repair Society Framework, and the implications for feasibly achieving this goal given current cultural, infrastructure, and regulatory conditions. 

Please use this link to watch our presentation at the Electronics Goes Green 2020 conference and share your views with us. Some key questions that we are specifically interested in hearing from you about include:

  • What do you see as a key feature of a realized Repair Society? 
  • In the future, do you think repair will be conducted by OEMs or by a wider group of people? Do you think this matters, and if so, why?  
  • Do you think the Repair Society Framework is useful in understanding what a Repair Society looks like? 
  • What are the potential trade-offs in the vision as described – e.g. if everyone is engaged in repair, will there be less time for other things that are important for well-being? 
October 5, 2020

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