IATE Term of the Week: Built-in obsolescence


Have you ever decided to replace a recently purchased broken good instead of trying to repair it? If you have, it might have been because you found it too difficult or costly to repair and you succumbed to buying a new one. The Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee of the European Parliament is aware of this situation and on Tuesday it issued a set of recommendations to encourage repairs and fight built-in obsolescence, our IATE Term of the Week.


Built-in obsolescence, also known as programmed or planned obsolescence, is defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as the practice of making or designing something (such as a car) in such a way that it will only be usable for a short time so that people will have to buy another one. The Oxford Dictionary of Marketing gives a similar definition, stating that built-in obsolescence is a policy of deliberately planning or designing a product with a finite lifespan, so it will become obsolete or non-functional after a certain period. Planned obsolescence is often used to tempt the customer to purchase again. Cars, computers, and software are good examples of products with built-in obsolescence. Producing goods by calculating a profitable lifespan is an increasingly wide-spread practice in our global economy, with all the consequences it has on the environment and on consumers‘ purchasing power. However, a 2014 Eurobarometer survey shows that 77% of EU citizens would prefer to repair their goods rather than buying new ones, but the reason they do not do it is because repairs are too expensive and often repair services are not satisfactory. The European Parliament is aware of this situation and has started working to tackle this trend in favour of honest and environmentally-friendly practices in the different industries where planned obsolescence has become mainstream, such as those of tangible goods and software.

Last Tuesday, an innovative set of recommendations from the EP Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) aimed at fighting back programmed obsolescence and promoting a repair culture were approved, in line with the sustainable policies advocated for in its 2016 study on longer product life. The IMCO Committee believes that the European Commission, Member States and producers should take measures to ensure consumers can enjoy durable, reparable and high-quality products. It has also suggested the Commission to consider introducing a voluntary European label covering, in particular, product’s durability, eco-design features, upgradeability in line with technical progress and reparability. The recommendations approved last Tuesday include:

  • ensuring that products are designed to be robust, easily repaired and upgraded,
  • if the repair period exceeds one month, the guarantee should be extended to reflect the time required to carry out the repair,
  • consumers should have the option of going to an independent repairer: technical, safety or software solutions which prevent repairs from being performed, other than by approved firms or bodies, should be discouraged,
  • Member States should consider offering appropriate incentives for durable products which can be repaired, boosting repairs and second-hand sales – this could help to create jobs and reduce waste,
  • parts which are crucial to the functioning of the product should be replaceable and reparable; essential components, such as batteries and LEDs, should not be fixed into products, unless justified for safety reasons,
  • spare parts essential to the functioning of the goods should be made available “at a price commensurate to the nature and life-time of the product”; economic operators should clearly indicate whether spare parts are available or not, on what terms and for how long,
  • an EU-wide definition of “planned obsolescence” for tangible goods and software should be introduced, and “appropriate dissuasive measures for producers” should be put in place.

All the above-mentioned reasons make built-in obsolescence an incredibly trendy term. Here you can see a screenshot of its entry in IATE:

IATE built in obsolescence

[su_note note_color=”#dcea0f”][su_button url=”https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1N8uFFbYN4-C8n_HcMZhfXsLu6HAuQJZgg1BUtf-GiFM/edit#” style=”flat”]Contribute to IATE![/su_button] We would appreciate your contribution to update this term in your language. An IATE terminologist of the relevant language will be in charge of the validation of contributions and, thus, a delay is to be expected.[/su_note]

GIMP_IATE_term_of_the_week_Built in obsolescence

If you are interested in consumers’ rights, you might also want to check one of our previous post on World Consumer Rights Day. We hope you have found this post interesting and we encourage you to contribute to IATE in your language by clicking on the above button!

Written by Doris Fernandes del Pozo – Journalist, Translator-Interpreter and Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament. She is pursuing a PhD as part of the Communication and Contemporary Information Programme of the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain).


  • Cole, Christine; Gnanapragasam, Alex (2017) “Community repair: a pop-up alternative to the throwaway society”, The Conversation. Available at: http://bit.ly/2qHNWFO (Accessed 02 June 2017)
  • European Parliament News (2017) “Making durable, reparable goods for consumers and tackling planned obsolescence”, Press Release. Available at: http://bit.ly/2s0Noig (Accessed 02 June 2017)
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary (n.d.) Built-in/planned obsolescence. Available at: http://bit.ly/2s0n0VS (Accessed 02 June 2017)
  • Montalvo, Carlos; peck, David; Rietveld, Elmer (2016) A Longer Lifetime for Products: Benefits for Consumers and Companies. Available at: http://bit.ly/2rLVzPU (Accessed 02 June 2017)
  • Oxford Reference (n.d.) Built-in obsolescence/planned obsolescence. Available at: http://bit.ly/2swjvCZ (Accessed 02 June 2017)