Design for sustainable behaviour: a quick fix for slower consumption?

The continuous replacement of durable consumer goods and disposal of functioning or repairable products into UK landfills or, increasingly, to developing countries, has resulted in global environmental and social consequences. Small appliances, which are easily disposed of in household waste, typically end up in UK landfills, are shipped to developing countries or otherwise ‘lost’. Very few are recycled or repaired, yet many are still functioning when disposed of. Consumers’ willingness, opportunity and ability to carry out repairs have historically been hampered by a range of complex factors. Design for Sustainable Behaviour (DfSB) aims to reduce the environmental and social impacts of products by moderating users’ interaction with them. This paper explores how DfSB strategies can be used to encourage a behavioural shift towards repair of small electrical household appliances by overcoming identified barriers. The paper pulls together literature on repair practice, highlighting gaps in current knowledge and outlines the findings of an extensive UK household survey focused on both product breakage rates and consumer mending behaviour. Three mending typologies and associated personas resulting from the analysis are combined with three DfSB strategies to develop conceptual design interventions to encourage repair. The paper concludes with a discussion of the potential efficacy of the design outcomes from a consumer perspective and the potential ramifications for design practice, whilst considering the wider influences on repair practices beyond design and how these may be addressed.