Thermal imaging is useful for a number of things, and in my world, that means energy efficiency. You can use thermal imaging for things like spotting a leaky duct in an attic (spewing expensive conditioned air into an unconditioned space is a huge waste), and for finding where insulation can be helpful in attics, on water heaters (below), and the like. As sometimes happens, I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to companies whose products and services are part of the solution to climate change, and that is 100% the case with Flir. I’ve written glowingly about Flir’s thermal imaging products and classes.

After two years with the company’s C3 thermal imaging camera, the battery died, a month after the 2-year warranty’s expiration. I started poking around for a replacement battery, but couldn’t find anything online, and to my chagrin, realized…the battery is embedded and not replaceable. This was the moment I realized that even if companies are making products that are part of the solution, the sustainability ethic may or may not be a holistic one. Clearly an electronic device designed with a battery that dies after 2 years and is not replaceable is not ideal. Shortsighted/poorly designed at best, and planned obsolescence, if you want to assume the worst. For those not familiar, planned obsolescence is where designers plan for a product to have a limited life, so that the customer will be forced to buy again sooner than with more well thought out products.

I wrote into customer service at Flir. An intake person who worked at Flir (she works there, she said, specifically because they are concerned about climate change) was helpful, and was appalled at the concept of how much e-waste the company’s design system was creating. That person escalated me to someone who was less than helpful. I went back and forth about when I bought it, proof of purchase, the warranty dates, and the like, and was ultimately told it was beyond the warranty period and therefore it was not their problem. After some back and forth, a little more escalation, and a reminder that I’d written glowingly about them in the past, they decided to send us a new C5. And guess what? Irreplaceable battery. Face, meet palm.

E-waste & Planned Obsolescence

In my opinion, climate change is the single biggest threat our world faces. We don’t fix that, not much else matters. So design concepts in planned obsolescence need to go the way of the dodo, and fast. Flir’s cameras are designed for the dump, as Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff says. Every other part of the camera is perfectly good, but a dead, irreplaceable battery means none of that matters. Given that electronics contain a wide variety of metals in proportions that make recovering them really challenging, recycling for all intents and purposes is a challenge that more often than not means it just goes to the dump, in the hopes that someday, some…day, someone will come along and mine our landfills effectively for the 0.5 grams of chromium and 0.2 grams of lithium in this particular camera (I’m making that up — no matter the research I did I could not find what is actually in the camera…it is a lithium-ion battery, but what *exactly* that means in terms of what actual amounts are in there is anyone’s guess). What is clear, however, is that the cameras Flir makes require special collection, not just a toss in the trash. They indicate as much in the fine print in section 3.7:

So the camera must be collected separately, which they make *ABUNDANTLY CLEAR* for customers with a teeny, tiny, very well camouflaged icon on the camera itself:

Flir camera e-waste icon

Anyone want to guess how many customers even see this, let alone do the right thing, go the extra mile, and find an e-waste facility that will take these? This is classic externalization of costs by Flir — make end-of-life disposal someone else’s problem, and you are more profitable. This, fundamentally, is why what we practice is not capitalism. True capitalism includes all the costs of doing business in the price of the product, otherwise, we would all be pouring toxic waste on the beach, or dumping used car parts in a public park to avoid disposal fees, which is of course, unfair to those companies that do the right thing and don’t do those things.

So the conclusion on this section is that Flir has been designing cameras for the dump for at least 2 years now, and the e-waste the company has created during that time is, at this point, hard to even fathom. I wrote for an official quote from Flir on this (as in, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?), and a week later have not gotten a reply. Even GoPro, which designs cameras for hard use conditions (40 feet under water, repeated salt water exposure and heavy pressure) has an easily replaceable battery. Flir’s camera use conditions are in no way that challenging, and it should be so simple to design a way to slide in a new battery. So what conclusion can someone who is eco-minded come to, besides that this is done on purpose, to make sure that every 2 years, someone will have to throw their camera in the trash and buy a new one?

…And The Cloud!

Flir seems to have taken its unsustainable practices another step forward in a mind-boggling way in terms of design. You literally cannot get the images off the Flir C5 camera without a Flir account. Any other camera, you just connect to a USB or an internet connection, and move your pictures to a computer. Simple. Flir doesn’t work that way, at least not on Macs. Image Capture can’t pull files from a Flir as it can from every other camera I’ve ever used. Flir requires an online storage account, and multiple times in the manual encourages people to use the auto-upload feature, meaning that all images, regardless of whether they’re useful or not, get stored in the cloud. The cloud, of course, has a carbon footprint — the more storage, the bigger the footprint. And of course, Flir makes money by selling said storage through peoples’ Flir Ignite account, which…hey, it’s free for 3 months, so who can complain?

Well, it’s time to complain about this practice — the world is on fire and we need to stop doing dumb things like this for a few extra pennies of profit. Come on Flir, you’re better than this…aren’t you?


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