The Light Bulb Conspiracy uncovers how planned obsolescence has
shaped our lives and economy since the 1920’s, when manufacturers
deliberately started shortening the life of consumer products to
increase demand. The film also profiles a new generation of consumers,
designers and business people who have started challenging planned
obsolescence as an unsustainable economic driver.
begins by visiting the longest running light bulb in the world, which
has burned continuously for over 110 years in Livermore, California.
Initially, light bulbs were built to last. But the film finds
historical evidence revealing how a cartel in the 1920’s decided to
produce bulbs limited to a maximum life of 1000 hours, making the humble
light bulb one of the first examples of planned obsolescence and a
model for increasing profits on other products.
Shot over three years in Europe, the U.S. and Ghana, The Light Bulb Conspiracy
investigates the evolution and impact of planned obsolescence through
interviews with historians, economists, designers and manufacturers,
along with archival footage and internal company documents. The film
profiles several well-known historical advocates -- Bernard London, who
famously proposed ending the Great Depression by mandating planned
obsolescence, and Brook Stevens, whose post-war ideas became the gospel
of the 1950’s and helped shape the throwaway consumer society of today.
The Light Bulb Conspiracy
also looks at modern examples of planned obsolescence, including
computer printers and the controversy over the inability to replace iPod
batteries. Environmental consequences are seen most dramatically in
the massive amounts of electronic waste that end up in uncontrolled dump
sites in Third World countries such as Ghana. The film concludes with
examples of consumers and businesses moving towards more sustainable
practices and products, including Warner Philips, great grandson of the
founder of Philips Electronics, who is producing an LED bulb designed to
last 25 years.
Reviews and Festivals"Recommended....A great overview explaining the emergence of planned obsolescence in America and the greater global society. There is great value in this film’s ability to make the viewer focus on the important and often overlooked issue of how our cultural practices are molded by hidden business agendas."
– Educational Media Reviews Online
"This outstanding presentation of a timely topic can be used in classes across the curriculum. Advocates speak to the issues of limited resources and the need to take action: fix things, don’t throw them away."
- School Library Journal
"Makes a strong argument that the current neo-liberal capitalist model based on the constant 'consume and discard' philosophy of planned obsolescence is unsustainable on our finite planet. I would love to see this film used by the brave engineering instructor who would ask the future engineers in his class to consider the ethical consequences of a widespread philosophy of 'designed to fail.' It would also be a much needed contribution as a topic in economics or business ethics courses where the rather unpleasant realities of the market are allowed to be accepted dogmatically."
– Troy Belford, Anthropology Review Database
"Recommended. A thought-provoking documentary....inspires an investigation into why modern products aren’t as durable."
“The film explores the issue of planned obsolescence, and argues that the light bulb is the first case of a product being designed to have a deliberately short lifespan.”
– Consumer Reports
“The Light Bulb Conspiracy combines strong stories with rare archival footage, tracing a century of planned obsolescence. The film investigates whether the modern consumer economy can sustain itself without planned obsolescence, and how a new business generation is trying to make planned obsolescence itself obsolete, to save the economy – and the planet.”.
– Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capitol
"The Light Bulb Conspiracy...led to vivid discussions about resource efficiency, economic growth, ecodesign, and other issues of interest to the WRF. The film was considered a 'must see' by many of our participants."
–Xaver Edelmann, President World Resources Forum, Switzerland
"An intelligent film which shows how, in our globalized world, planned obsolescence and outrageous consumerism create a new sustainability problem and a new form of oppression in the planet’s poorest countries. The clear and precise structure of the film allows students to easily grasp the complexities of the issue and encourages their own independent thinking about it."
– Miquel Barceló, Professor, Computer Engineering, Barcelona Tech University
Best Documentary, Spanish Television Academy Awards
Best Feature Documentary, FILMAMBIENTE, Brazil
Best Film, SCINEMA, Australia
Maeda Special Prize / Japan Prize
Ondas Internacional Award, Spain
1st Prize, Science, Technology and Education, GZDOC, China Special Jury Mention – FICMA, Spain
Focal International Awards, London
Magnolia Awards, Shanghai TV Festival 2011
Prix Europa 2011
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital
United Nations Association Film Festival