Buying Durable Products is Good for Sustainability, but It Helps Nothing if It’s Unused 

We keep on hearing (and sometimes saying it to ourselves) that it’s better to invest in something that’s durable.  

In many cases, we sometimes have to choose between looks and performance. When we want to get both, we need to get it at a higher price, like luxury items. With luxe products, other than the durability and other benefits, people will also form an attachment to it. 

Attachment to items is good when we look at it from a sustainability perspective, because people will use, care for, and keep them longer. It means people will consume less, and therefore there will be less waste in landfills. 

However, durable, top-notch designer products can be a double-edged sword. According to a study by researchers at New Cornell University, such attachment can unintentionally encourage less sustainable habit. 

For instance, because the items are not cheap, people will want to prevent damage or loss. Hence, instead of using the items regularly, they’ll only use it for special occasions. 

People will preserve designer shoes in a box, prop porcelain plates as decorations, and keep the expensive car in a storage. In turn, they’ll buy additional, cheaper, less durable products that they will actually use daily. 

Lead author Michael Kowalski said, “The goal has been to get people to hold on to products longer, which was seen as inherently more sustainable. But that’s not always the case if people aren’t actually using these things.” 

Consumer behavior 

The research, titled “I Love It, I’ll Never Use It: Exploring Factors of Product Attachment and Their Effects on Sustainable Product Usage Behaviors” has been published in the International Journal of Design.  

It aims to inform designers about the multiple factors driving product attachment. Designers then can use this discovery to encourage usage for as long as possible so that it’s consistent with the brands’ sustainability goals and at the same time, prevent redundant consumption. 



People around the world tend to save the luxe items for special events and use cheaper, non-attaching products. But per the study, in the USA only, the average people throw out seven times more durable goods (meant to last at least three years) than they did in 1960. 

Coauthor and research advisor Jay Yoon said, “Perceived irreplaceability as a factor of attachment has been designers’ gold standard, but it turns out addressing it does not guarantee a product’s impact is going to be sustainable, if people are so attached to it that they don’t dare to use it, instead storing it away. We need to give more attention to other factors in this relationship.” 

Attachment and unsustainable behavior 

The idea of this research came about after Kowalski designed and built a wooden dining table for a family member. Just like the study’s title, the said family member wanted to treasure the item despite the great appreciation, not using the table as intended. 

To understand that sort of mentality, Kowalski then interviewed individuals of varying demographics in their homes about the products they felt attached to and why, and which of those items they actually used or didn’t use. 

Kowalski found more than 100 objects in an unused state. They include a dresser which has been left alone because its craftmanship is admired, bowls that had belonged to grandparents, and a stuffed animal with rich childhood memories. 

Then, there were two cases of car ownership that illustrated how attachment could inspire active or passive product use.  

One owner adored a car, gave it a nickname, and constantly used it because the car was reliable and delivered good performance in extreme weather, giving the owner a great driving experience in any place they go. 

On the other side of the coin, an owner also adored a special-edition convertible. However, this one stored the car neatly in a garage and used other cars for daily transportation. 

Why are people attached to products? 

The authors identified 7 key factors that influence product attachment. Some of them include: aesthetic qualities, durability, performance and the memories and emotions invoked. 

After surveying more than 220 participants online, Kowalski and Yoon analyzed how the factors could affect attachment and long-term usage differently. 

They found that perceptions of irreplaceability stood out when it comes to product attachment—a factor that also led to less sustainable behaviors. Durable, pleasing, and classic (won’t go out of style) products got more use, while items associated with sentimental emotions and memories got less. 



Through these findings, the researchers wanted to highlight opportunities for designers to prioritize products that are well made, enjoyable, and able to look good through time. This way, consumers will want to keep and engage with the items. 

In contrast, products marketed as unique, valuable, and irreplaceable, may actually promote less sustainable consumption. Therefore, designs or items that emphasize on limited releases, personalization and beautiful-but-scarce materials should be considered with caution. 

Kowalski said, “Creating a sense that something is one-of-a-kind increases attachment but decreases actual use of a product. Designers need to be mindful of consumers’ psychological and emotional experience in addition to their practical needs to promote sustainable consumption in the long run.” 

What to do with your luxury or durable items at home 

Based on the research above, it’s safe to say that some of us are guilty of buying and owning an expensive item because of its durability and performance, but end up not using it as it should be.  

Don’t beat yourself up, though, if you want to have a sustainable lifestyle but you’ve caught yourself to have done this. Remember that we can always learn from our mistakes and do better. Besides, the study helps us to be aware of this issue.  

One thing that you can do: change your mindset so that you won’t be too fearful about damaging or losing the products. You can also look at it from all the benefits that you’ll enjoy when you actually use the items. 

You can also learn how to properly take care of the items that you’re attached to, so that you can still treasure those products without leaving them sitting by somewhere in the corner of your house. 



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