The Lightbulb Conspiracy


This film explores the industrial practice of planned obsolescence, exposing how big business deliberately designs products with a limited life span. Their strategy is to generate sales by limiting the time between repeat purchases – also referred to as “shortening the replacement cycle”.

The documentary starts by visiting the longest running light bulb in the world, which has been on for over 110 years in Livermore, California. In the start, light bulbs where built to last. The Lightbulb Conspiracy exposes how the Phoebus cartel back in the 1920s explicitly started designing light bulbs to have a maximum life span of 1000 hours, making the humble light bulb one first examples of planned obsolescence. The film also takes a look at modern day examples, from personal printer malfunctions to the controversy over the inability to replace iPod batteries.

Shot over three years in Europe, the U.S. and Ghana, the film weaves together investigative research, archive footage and company documents to highlight the impact of planned obsolescence. The environmental consequences are seen most dramatically when the film takes us to the uncontrolled electronic dump sites of third world countries such as Ghana.

The Lightbulb Conspiracy finishes with examples of consumers and businesses moving towards more sustainable practices and products, featuring Warner Philips, great grandson of the founder of Philips Electronics, who is producing an LED bulb designed to last 25 years.

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