Is everyone someones fool

Upgrading your Sonos(NASDAQ:SONO) sound system components could be a pricey proposition since they tend to sell at a premium compared to other brands on the market, but being able to get the new components at a 30% discount would be a great deal.

Sonos thought so too, and recently implemented a new trade-in program that gives current owners of certain first-gen components a chance to upgrade to the latest pieces at cut-rate prices. But a vocal group of internet writers are complaining that Sonos requires the old equipment be rendered inoperable before qualifying for the discount.

Image source: Getty Images.

Another brick in the wall

Under the Trade Up Program, components that are 10 years old or more -- such as the Sonos Connect and Connect: Amp, the original Play:5, and various ZonePlayers, which let users create wireless, multi-room sound systems -- are eligible to be upgraded to Sonos' newest devices. Moreover, if you own more than one item, you get the discount for each new product you purchase to replace them.

Using the Sonos app, you confirm the devices you want to upgrade and -- this is the part that upsets the online commenters -- you put the devices into Recycle Mode, which not only deletes all personal data from them, but also "bricks" them, or makes them unusable by anyone afterwards. 

And once you put the device into Recycle Mode, there's no turning back. Like the tapes in the old Mission: Impossible TV show, the device essentially self-destructs in 21 days. It cannot be used again.

Although some people have apparently bricked their components accidentally, Sonos says the purpose of rendering them forever inoperable is that it doesn't want the decade-old technology getting into the hands of new consumers who may not realize the old devices are not compatible with current standards. Sonos stops supporting devices after five years.

Once the device is unusable, the program's FAQ page advises owners that "Taking your device to a local certified e-recycling facility is the most environmentally friendly means of disposal," and if no such facility is available, you can ship your bricked device back to Sonos.

A lighter shade of green

The chief complaint about the program is that it is not as environmentally friendly as it could be. Recycling is a valid option to reduce garbage, but environmentalists say it is the last step one should consider. It's why the slogan "Reduce, reuse, recycle" is structured the way it is.

Old Sonos components are still highly functional, and someone who might not be able to afford one of the sound specialist's devices, even at the discounted price, could still get use out of one if it wasn't bricked. 

Reusing old electronics is considered the most environmentally responsible action. Not only does it keep the old products -- even if they're broken down so all of the recoverable parts are removed -- out of landfills, it also reduces the need for new products, which require more mining, drilling, and energy use to manufacture.

Moving the most product

Of course, Sonos is chiefly interested in selling its newest technology. Revenue in fiscal 2019 rose 11% with adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) surging 28% year over year, well ahead of Sonos' annual target of 10% revenue growth and 20% adjusted EBITDA growth.

It added 1.7 million new households to its customer lists, but notes 37% of existing households accounted for new product registrations. That means over a third of its customers were adding new products to their homes, and the trade-up program, which launched in October, ought to boost those numbers higher in the coming year.

Bricking old electronics may not be the optimal solution, but it does seem to strike a balance between environmental responsibility and Sonos' need to keep growing.