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I'm a big fan of reusing and if I really need to buy something, I buy it used. For example, I've been using second hand or refurbished phones for many years. However, while that is good for the environment (because fewer phones need to be produced), it doesn't affect the phone market. Phone makers decide which kind of phone to produce based on which phone sells better, and not considering the second hand market.

From that point of view, the people who can influence phone producers' decisions are those who buy new phones. That's the concept of "dollar voting", where your purchase acts like a "vote" for a phone. The phone lines with more "votes" are the ones phone makers will keep producing.

Under that logic, if the phones growing more in sales were the modular, easy to repair, and ethically sourced ones, then companies would privilege the production of those phones. An example of such phone is the FairPhone (in fact the one I'm considering to buy).

Therefore, I tend to think that getting another refurbished phone produces the less short-term environmental impact. However, it doesn't affect the phone market, which is what we need for a reduced long-term impact.

Can anyone help me to find a rationale to decide when it is better to reuse and when it is better to "dollar vote"?.

Note that when I say "dollar vote", I'm referring to buy a product that dramatically changes the market paradigm in a way that is better for the environment.

Or is the "dollar voting" idea just another trick to boost consumption?

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    A phone that's hot on the secondhand market will command a higher resale price. That makes the phone more valuable to the original purchaser, so all other things being equal, consumers should prefer the resellable one. It's an indirect connection, but I don't think reusability and dollar voting are totally decoupled. – Nuclear Wang Aug 20 '18 at 18:25
  • @NuclearWang That could indeed be a connection. But I think buyers are not that rational, and almost nobody will check the second hand market price of the phone they are thinking tu buy and use that to guide his decision. People do that with cars, but not with phones. Also, phones change so fast that there is no second hand market of the models currently been sold new. – Camilo Rada Aug 20 '18 at 18:34
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    Not an answer to your question, but you may be interested to know that Fairphone occasionally sells refurbished phones on their website. Also they have a forum where other people offer 2nd hand phones. – THelper Aug 21 '18 at 7:24
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Interesting question.

The second-hand market is only relevant to companies that engage in it. Tractor manufacturers, for example, often have dealerships that sell new, accept trade-ins, and thus sell second hand... so they have the ability to profit not only on the original sale, but subsequent sales as well. The vast majority of companies, though, fire and forget their products — for them only new sales matter.

As a general rule, then, I'd say that dollar voting has more of an impact on companies that focus on new sales, and re-use has more of an impact on companies that produce longer-lived ("durable") products that can have multiple owners during the course of their lives.

I think that your choice ultimately promotes a business model — not a product, or a company, or even the environment.

If we ignore the specific phone example you used, your fundamental (generic) question might actually be "What business model is best for the environment?"

I personally believe that the production of goods that:

  • are durable
  • can be maintained and repaired by the end-user, and
  • are unlikely to be rendered obsolete any time soon

...is in the best, long-term interests of the environment — so I'm happy to pay a premium to acquire such goods.

If a company has a flashy website, with an attractive "new products" list, but no "spare parts" list, then warning bells immediately sound and I quickly look elsewhere.

My recommendation would thus be — all other factors being equal — to buy products (new/used — doesn't matter) that are built by companies that offer long-term, end-user support for their products.

Maintain > Repair > Re-use > Re-/up-cycle > Replace

Put another way: I believe that planned obsolescence is a pervasive, environment-harming business model — one that we should strive to phase out by financially punishing companies that use it (i.e. by not spending money on any of their products — new or used).

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