Our conscience is ecological, but our buying behavior is not. Every (second) year a new smartphone is overexploitation of nature. Here’s how it could change.
The Fairphone 4 is here. It advertises sustainability – whereupon I ask myself what would have to happen for all smartphones to become more sustainable. For many, the Fairphone is simply not the first choice.
Some manufacturers advertise that they accept old devices and recycle them. But this is no more than a green coat of paint. Why else is there the Fairphone? In any case, its sustainability is not questioned – not even by the other manufacturers.
The pressure must come from us, the users.
Manufacturers are too slow and don’t address some problems at all. Legislators are also reluctant to impose effective requirements. The question now is: What can we customers do to be?
What is sustainability for Fairphone?
Sustainability itself is quite abstract. Fairphone has therefore translated the term into three concrete points:
- The raw materials come from good sources. Most materials are recycled. The gold already comes from Fairtrade. Cobalt and lithium are expected to do so soon. A thrifty use is also understood.
- Users can repair the Fairphone themselves. Only with a screwdriver you can take the machine apart. Replace individual components such as battery or camera if they are broken or you want to upgrade.
- Fairphone promises five years of use. This includes not only the availability of spare parts, but also an adaptation of the operating system for this long period of time.
Check all manufacturers for sustainability
Even though many buyers want sustainability and also these three points – they also want a smartphone that..
- is cheap,
- narrow and light and
- hardware updated every year.
When in doubt, the three points below then beat the three points above.
The low market share of the Fairphone only confirms this. The hurdle is simply too high. There should be a way to reward small steps.
It should be visible if one manufacturer uses Fairtrade gold but others do not. I don’t mean the manufacturers’ own advertising, but independent sources: scientific institutes, consumer protection associations, journalistic media.
Points and certificates
This transparency could be brought by a point system or certificates, as they already exist now. Fairphone is even using them already.
The Fairphone 4 scores 9.3 out of 10 on the French repairability index. In addition, the unit has the certificate for Fairtrade gold and the TCO certificate for fair labor conditions.
In addition, Fairphone as a company has received the Ecovadis Platinum Medal for sustainability-oriented companies, as well as the B-Corp certification for voluntary commitment to solving social and environmental problems.
Trace raw materials
A first task would be to make the use of raw materials transparent: which ones the manufacturers use themselves, which chips and components they purchase. The pressure must also be passed on to the suppliers. The entire supply chain is important.
Were metals and plastics recycled or not? What are the working conditions like when the metals and rare earths are mined??
Repairability without DIY
When it comes to repairability, Fairphone is wrong in my opinion. Almost all manufacturers glue their smartphones, only Fairphone screws them together. But who wants to take apart their smartphone themselves? The most important thing is that the store on the corner can easily repair the smartphone. And this is becoming increasingly difficult.
iFixit already shows how easy or difficult this is for individual smartphones. By the way, the Fairphone 3 gets 10 out of 10 points. There is also a manual from iFixit, how you can open the device.
The Fairphone promises five years of use. However, the Fairphone 4 is already comparatively thick and heavy at the market launch, a clunker. And the gap to current smartphones is widening every year.
The pressure must be off to have something new every year. Why smartphones need to get bigger? They hardly fit in your pocket. Smartphones are getting thinner and thinner, but have a bigger and bigger camera hump, so that a cover is necessary, which makes the device thick again.
The problem is this: When a new version of the operating system appears, it also requires faster hardware. Conversely, the new capabilities of the hardware require a new version of the operating system. We already know this from Microsoft and Intel. A vicious circle.
The solution would be an operating system that is less resource-hungry: not everything animated, not everything streamed, not everything complicated to calculate. Develop new functions that also run on old hardware. Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). Apple manages this better with iOS than Android. There could also be versions of the operating system with long-term support (LTS).
If the Fairphone remains a niche product, the environment has nothing to gain from it. A different approach is needed. The industry must change. The pressure must come from us customers.
Fairphone summed up very nicely what this is all about:
- Saving raw materials
- long use
All we need now is a system that we buyers can use as a guide: Ratings or certificates awarded by independent institutions.