For those of you not familiar with the concept of "heirloom sustainability," the basic idea is that producers should design quality, durable goods, that will last a long time and be passed down for generations. The approach is - in theory - a good way to reduce waste and eliminate the cheap products that end up in landfills.
For example, instead of buying hundreds of plastic pens, you could buy one quality pen and even be able to pass it down to your children. Of course, you'd have to make a big investment up front, but if you keep it for long enough, it would eventually - in theory - pay for itself.
What are the global implications of this trend?
How do the world's poor fit into this picture?
Despite the fact that one expensive item in the long run may cost less overall, it goes without saying that the vast majority of people in this world can't afford to make big investments at any one time. What if something happens to your prized possession?
I think one way to make this concept work is to throw away our pre-conceived notions about what is a "quality" product. Especially for the global poor, we should emphasize handcrafted, locally produced, quality products. Cost is a weak motivator to keep a product for a long time, because if something else more appealing or meaningful comes along, you are only keeping the original out of shame or guilt. However, if the product is well-designed and has real meaning to you, then you'll build an attachment to it that will decrease your interest in other products.
I see this as a potential opening for poorer global citizens to gain a stronger foothold in the economic system. They can produce specialty items on a smaller scale, with a greater emphasis on quality and design. I think a lot of opportunity exists to update the concept of the artisan and craftsman. Instead of one person creating the product and selling it in a local market, they could form a small business, use this leverage to incorporate new technology into time-tested designs, and sell the product to a global market.
This way, the concept of "heirloom design" can have it's cake and eat it too. The first world gets a supply of small-scale, quality heirloom items that they can afford, and the global poor gain a stronger economic foothold by becoming the new sellers, now that you don't have to be a giant to be able to export.