The Role of Repair in the Circular Economy

Image Credit: Kilian Seiler on Unsplash

Recently we attended the second annual Australian Repair Summit, held in Canberra by the Australian Repair Network & Griffith University. The conference explored the Right to Repair movement in Australia, which seeks to address the restriction of access to service and repair information to consumers and independent professional repairs, and the design of products that inhibit repair (for example, batteries glued into products). Representatives from community repair cafes, textile, automotive, agriculture, and medical sectors spoke to the impact of restricting repair accessibility, and subsequent benefits (economically, environmentally, and socially) that can be realised through improved access to repair:

  • In the consumer product space, a Samsung study reveals 80% of customers would give up their favourite brand for a more repairable product (https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/qualtrics-servicenow-customer-service-research/).
  • In agriculture, impeded access to spare parts for harvesting equipment saw almost $250,000 in lost profits (i.e. $250,000 of food waste) to a farmer in a matter of days.
  • For medical devices, poor repair networks has seen those with physical disabilities without assistive equipment such as wheelchairs for weeks, if not more.

In the transition to a circular economy, we commonly refer to the ten ‘R-strategies’, with repair assigned strategy ‘number 5’ on a scale from reduce to recycle. However, repair seems to be a strategy that is often discarded by businesses as a lever that can be actively engaged with and supported in a commercial environment. Think of how prolific the references to reuse and recycling are in business sustainability strategies, yet repair examples are few and far between; Patagonia’s repair guide are an immediate reference when reaching for repair case studies.

Restricted repair is evident across almost all product-based industries, however the space is gaining traction through both voluntary, community-led efforts and legislative action:

  • The number of community repair cafes in Australia close in on 100 cafes nation-wide, and
  • Legislative influence has come into play in the automotive sector as of 1 July 2022 with an amendment to the Competition and Consumer Act 2021 to mandate service and repair information be provided/made available to car dealership networks and independent repairers.

Whether your business operates in these sectors or not, it’s important to consider the role you can play in this movement:

  • Am I inhibiting consumer and/or professional access to service and repair information?

E.g. product manufacturers should reflect on the current mechanism they provide to consumer/independents to access service and repair information.

  • How can I benefit from greater consumer and/or professional access to service and repair information?

E.g. as part of the transition to a circular economy, businesses should consider the role of repair services in the business model of the future, such as design for ease-of-repair, or introducing a repair café to in-store services.

  • How can I facilitate consumer and/or professional access to service and repair information?

E.g. residential developments can be designed to include space for repair cafes.

Thank you to the Australian Repair Network for organising and leading such an insightful and future-focused event.

If you’d like to chat further about right-to-repair, please contact Dana King, Senior Consultant at Edge Environment on dana.king@edgeenvironment.com

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