May 21, 2004 A groundbreaking initiative that could lead to the development of longer-lasting consumer goods is under way in the UK.
The research network will focus on how cars, furniture, clothes, household appliances and other consumer products can be made more durable. Until now, little research has been carried out in this area, even though increased product durability would help to conserve the Earth's resources and minimise waste.
The aim is to promote the exchange of ideas between social scientists, designers, engineers and marketing specialists from both industry and academia. It will be established and managed by a team from Sheffield Hallam University, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Fashion consciousness, sophisticated marketing and falling prices are just three of the factors that encourage consumers to replace products more regularly than necessary. The result is an ever increasing demand for consumer goods that in the long-term will be unsustainable.
Successfully tackling this complex problem will demand a clear understanding of what drives consumer behaviour and how products can be designed to ensure they are considered attractive and useful over a longer period. It will also require a wider appreciation of the potential benefits of sustainable consumption, e.g. freeing consumers from the pressure to invest in the "latest" products and enabling forward thinking businesses to profit from meeting demand for more durable goods.
Dr Tim Cooper is leading the initiative. He says: "We aim to look at as wide a range of products and sectors as possible. We want to build a network with a real-world feel and use it to kick-start a strategic discussion on this key sustainability issue".
The new network aims to stimulate the multidisciplinary collaboration that is essential if product durability is to improve significantly, and identify the innovative research & development needed in this under-researched area. Three seminars will be held each year and an e-mail discussion group and website will be developed to promote communication between interested parties.
The 3-year initiative, "Network on the Lifespan of Consumer Durables as a Factor in Sustainable Technology", will receive EPSRC funding of just over £65,000.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests more than £500 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.
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