Can I do my own mass-balancing?

EDIT: I’ve changed the title of the thread to make it clear that this is not similar to carbon offsetting but is actually doing what Fairphone themselves do for the materials in the Fairphone. I work that out here: Can I do my own mass-balancing?, so some of the previous posts are about the debate of this method compared to carbon offsetting, so a bit off topic (but weren’t at the time).

Hi all,

I’ve been thinking… I know, I should be careful! :laughing:

First, I was wondering how much all of the initiatives which FairPhone are taking would add to the cost of a product. Because, I think one of the “scary” things for the industry is the perceived additional cost of Fairtrade gold, recycled copper and plastic, conflict-free tin and tungsten, etc. (Note that I know the cost of a “living wage” can be quantified, as Fairphone have stated this clearly). If there was an easy way to say, “For this device, to use Fairtrade gold would cost €x more per unit” then this would help both consumers and suppliers.

Then I wondered if there was a way I could do this without needing to rely on the manufacturer doing it. Could I buy some Fairtrade gold and resell it into the market to compensate for the fact that my original purchase did not use Fairtrade gold? This would allow conscientious consumers (like me!) to carry on consuming whilst massaging our consciences! :laughing:

Then, I thought, why aren’t Fairphone already doing this somehow? Fairphone already have a better understanding of the materials supply chain than most other smartphone and electronics vendors - most vendors don’t actually get involved in the supply chain for raw materials, they just depend on their manufacturing partners to do this for them. Fairphone could get consumers to tell them a product and Fairphone could estimate the additional cost to use ethically sourced materials. The consumer could then pay Fairphone to buy these ethically sourced materials and resell them into the market, which would (as far as I understand) make them available for other manufacturers to use and support and grow an ethical supply chain for raw materials.

Fairphone could also use this to “name and shame” other vendors. E.g. How much extra would it cost to make an Iphone from ethically sourced materials (if you ignore the fact they say they already do this, without evidence)? I would hope that one result of this would be for manufacturers to start to work with Fairphone to improve their supply chain, or they could just use Fairphone as their materials sourcing partner. This would generate business for Fairphone and deliver the impact that Fairphone are looking for.

But I suppose my key question is: Could “offsetting” raw materials like this actually work, in the same way that allegedly “works” (I know it doesn’t really) for greenhouse gasses offsetting? And if so, how can I start offsetting?

Cheers :slightly_smiling_face:

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Like carbon offsetting, this kind of trade-off is a money making scheme more than anything. You can’t offset people being treated poorly and the environment getting destroyed by buying both bad and good stuff.


Okay, maybe “offset” isn’t the best word but I used it knowing that it has negative connotations.

But, even if we acknowledge that it’s not perfect, GHG offsetting is still better than nothing (if a good offsetting scheme is chosen). E.g. Planting new forest cannot be a bad thing can it (unless replacing existing virgin or established wild habitat)? Investing in renewable technologies should be encouraged shouldn’t it?

Therefore, I apply the same logic to ethically sourcing materials. Even if investing in some sort of “offset” scheme for ethical materials for every device we buy without ethically sourced materials is not a perfect solution, it’s still a partial solution. These ethical sources will receive investment which makes them more viable and reduces the cost for others to use them, which makes them more attractive to larger manufacturers who decide it’s worth paying the premium for the good publicity, which increases the market, we get economies of scale, which reduces the price whilst increasing the amount of ethically sourced materials and increases the number of people who’s lives are improved and reduces the environmental impact. This is still a good thing, isn’t it, even if it’s not perfect?

We can’t be puritanical about this, we have to be pragmatic. Even the existence of Fairphone is a pragmatic solution, because the best thing to do would be to not make any new phones at all… but that’s not realistic is it.

FYI, the devices I personally would be applying this to would be things like IoT development boards, single board computers and microcontrollers, MEMS sensors and maybe even the PinePhone (if Fairphone doesn’t get it’s open-OS act together before my current phone irrepairably dies and I need to find a replacement).

Cheers :slight_smile:

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All the compensation schemes to me seem very similar if not exactly the same to the Catholic church selling indulgences in the Middle Ages. You could use them to offset your bad deeds in order to minimize the punishment you would receive in the afterlife. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t misbehave AND go to heaven. You can’t consume ‘bad’ products AND save the planet / improve people’s lives. It’s about choosing what matters to you more. As I’ve learned from the time spent here, apparently, people prefer their notification LEDs, FM-radios, and smaller-sized phones over trying to make a change for the better. I have little hope left for our planet.


While the accusation of selling of indulgence might be correct in a way, it is - in my opinion - wrong at the same time.
I see it like this:
It is correct, if you act like you don’t have to care, because you compensate and everything is fine.
It is wrong if you e.g. have to fly for your job, what to do? You can’t undo that flight, but you can “compensate” the CO2 production via atmosfair or other such projects.

Regarding this idea, I really lack imagination, how to do it.
If you buy a product, that is made from/with unfair gold, that’s it. Supporting fair-gold miners and traders obviously would be a good idea, but it doesn’t sell their gold. How to achieve this, is beyond me.
STILL: Such a project could help to show, that there really is a market for fair gold and that there are customers out there willing to pay the price. But obviously the money would have to be invested in a sensible way. Quite a lot to think about.

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It isn’t a partial solution, though. A dead worker is a dead worker, a bulldozed rainforest is a bulldozed rainforest. Nothing we can buy can replace these things that are inherently beyond monetary value, and the idea of throwing some pennies at these tragedies to somehow “offset” them ought to be deeply offensive to anyone with half a heart.

But more pragmatically speaking, the problem with these market “solutions” is that they only slow things down (if that - have you checked whether trees are actually getting planted?), and while the world is rapidly rendered uninhabitable by a handful of megacorporations, the public, outrageously, gets handed both the blame (you’re still buying plastic straws?) and a fake solution (buy these better, more expensive straws!). Nothing is structurally improved, plastic islands grow larger, the world gets hotter, and all that’s happening is that some consumers are made to feel better about the suffering of the working class and the imminent destruction of the ecosystems that support human life on Earth.

When some of us say that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, that doesn’t mean there aren’t better or worse choices - it means all choices under a destructive system are by definition destructive - just some slightly less so, but the system trucks on to certain doom regardless. Me flying on an aeroplane once a year is not the problem; Shell and Amazon are the problem, and you can bet your bits they’re laughing through their noses at us worriedly paying an optional carbon tax on our plane tickets while they belch out more toxic garbage in a second than I could do in ten lifetimes.

So don’t let neoliberal crap like carbon credits do what it’s designed to do: placate you and distract you from the fact that the current economical system is quite literally ruining the world, no matter how consciously we consume. Try to act as morally and ethically as you can in this broken system, and if there’s a way to donate or participate in a way to make things get worse less quickly, please do. But the only way to actually do net good is by fundamentally changing the way in which we run our societies. As it is, the current economic system will only ever offer solutions to putting off that change.

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Well, I think we’re getting a bit carried away aren’t we? :astonished: The very act of buying a Fairphone still has environmental impact. Living has some impact, and we can’t propose not living as a solution! @BertG is right: let’s be pragmatic :wink:

Can we compare what I’ve asked/suggested with what Fairphone themselves are doing? For the FP2 my understanding is that they bought Fairtrade gold and made sure that this specific gold was used by their manufacturer, is that right? Whereas for the FP3 they are buying Fairtrade gold and selling it into the Shanghai gold exchange, so we don’t know if any actually ends up in a FP3, but we know that we have paid for as much Fairtrade gold as was used in our new phone. My understanding is that this is also how it works for conflict-free tin and tantalum, and maybe for tungsten, cobalt, copper, etc, but I can’t find much information about this on Fairphone’s website.

Why can’t we, as consumers, do the same for other electronics we’ve bought? The difference would be that we, as consumers, would have to buy the Fairtrade gold (or recycled copper, or whatever) after we’ve bought the electronics, not before. That is actually all I was suggesting in my original post, but maybe I didn’t explain it very well.

So, please climb down from giving your sermons and try and engage in the discussion. If you think what Fairphone are already doing is good, then why is what I was suggesting bad?

Cheers :slight_smile:

Someone contributing an opinion that differs from yours is not the same as not engaging in the discussion. I think I explained quite thoroughly why I think offsetting schemes are a slippery slope, and criticising my tone as being sermonising isn’t a retort, nor is it constructive.

Please read my previous post again. I explained why any and all participation in an inherently destructive system is by definition destructive, but that we shouldn’t blame ourselves for it as these problems are ingrained in a system we cannot escape.

Fairphone is a bit different from other phone manufactuers as they’re not participating in the economical system in the same way that those other phone manufacturers are - they seem to live off subsidies and grants, and I’m not sure they’ve made a profit as yet. But yes, they are still participating, so they are still part of the destructive system and buying a Fairphone is not a net positive. Again, does that mean that it’s impossible or useless to make choices that are less bad? No, as I’ve already said and at length: there are better and worse choices, but it’s important to recognise that even when we make the slightly less bad choices, we’re not making problems go away and I’d go so far as to say that most of the time these choices are artificial and only intended to make the consumer feel good and not actually solve any problems.

And I’ll just go ahead and repeat myself again: make these choices, if you feel better about it. We all do. Carry a reusable shopping bag around (I do) but at the same time, do not feel the problem is the fault of the world’s consumers and recognise that the plastic waste problem will not go away by people making consumption choices in a system that will just find new ways of filling in the space left open by the change in consumption patterns - which is why I’m happy the Dutch government is banning disposable plastics in 2022.

Hi @robbert.f,

Well thanks for repeating your opinion, but I didn’t start the thread to look for reassurance, that’s not what I’m after. Please don’t mistake the fact that I’m relatively new to this forum to also mean that I’m ignorant of the personal choices we all make regarding our social and environmental impact.

I’m actually interested in the practicalities of it, whether it could at all achieve the same thing as Fairphone are already doing or not, and if it’s practical and works then how to go about it. Now that I understand (from their own blogs) how Fairphone are doing it I’m sure that if I do the same it would achieve what they’re already doing. The next step is to work out if it’s practical in the tiny quantities that I would be interested in (probably not, but…) and then finally I’ll have to work out how to go about it.

Or maybe someone from Fairphone will read this and think “hey, actually that’s something we could do, and if we do it at scale it will work better than individuals doing it”? Or maybe not.

If anyone’s got any experience of buying and selling raw materials on a stock exchange in a foreign country then I’ll be very eager to learn from you :smiley:

Cheers :slight_smile:

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Then please be clearer about what you are after. I wasn’t trying to reassure you, I was correcting a misinterpretation by restating my point in different wording. The question that heads this thread is ‘Can I “offset” bad gold by buying Fairtrade Gold?’ and I attempted to answer that question. I’m trying to be helpful here, but your initial post was not clear about what sort of replies you were looking for and you were having trouble parsing the content of my second reply.

But if I understand correctly, you’re interested in the practical and technical aspects of this offsetting business rather than its effects - in which case I was definitely barking up the wrong tree, as I know very little about buying precious metals.

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Hi @robbert.f,
I’ve edited the title and OP to try and clarify. I considered starting a new thread but decided that would just add more confusion.

Regarding the effects - the intended effect would be to support supply channels which we want to encourage by buying a matching amount of material from them as the amount we have in the device we just bought. The actual effect might not be that at all, so I am still interested in that discussion because the side effects could outweight the intended benefit, or the intended benefit might not “material”-ise (gettit?! :smiley:) at all. But then that would make me wonder why it is okay for Fairphone…

Practically, what is possible. I think an individual buying Fairtrade gold from the refiner and selling it on the Shanghai stock exchange is totally impractical. Can I buy fairtrade gold in the UK, and sell it in the UK at a pawn shop? Probably yes, but the additional cost will be huge and not representative of what the additional cost should be, so even if I did it myself it’s not something I could recommend to anyone else or which could scale.

About the other materials, some would be even harder. For example, fairtrade gold is probably purchasable in a jewellery shop, but what about conflict-free tin, tantalum and tungsten? What about recycled cobalt? Where do I buy these things and where do I resell them without looking decidedly dodgy?! Tungsten is controlled under some security laws anyway isn’t it? I’ve no idea about the other materials.

On the contrary, materials like copper and plastic are probably quite easy to get and sell… maybe too easy. I mean, I can find copper in wires and plastic is everywhere, and is easily recycled, so there’s not really any way I can improve that supply chain unless I buy the raw material from the recyclers themselves… which then probably becomes quite difficult, but may be feasible.

Then there’s all the other materials! :woozy_face: makes my head spin… so I’d have to draw the line somewhere as at some point I’d soon be considering microgrammes of materials.

Which is why I then come back to two of my other points in my OP:

  1. Could Fairphone (or someone else) offer this mass-balancing service so that conscientious consumers like me could easily pay them to do all of this for me, each time I buy a new device, if the manufacturer of that device isn’t already doing it
  2. How much would it really cost to do this? Probably not very much in terms of money but in terms of personal time, if I did it myself, it would probably be a huge amount of time… then I’d know enough about the supply chain to do 1) myself! :laughing:

It’s an interesting idea, and one which I might look into further.

Cheers :slightly_smiling_face:

Wow, that’s a really pessimistic view, with a touch of conspiracy-theory (the part about filling the space; but wildly exaggerating of course!).
It seems like you believe, that the system is set up with the target to destroy the environment?

While it is correct, that the one individual consumer-decision will hardly change the industry, I still believe, that this can be done, when the pattern of consumption is changing.
Obviously - as the FP example shows - that’s a long way (to say the least) and not easy to achieve. But from my own experience, I can confirm, that one’s actions can work as an example for others, thus spreading good ideas and more sensible consumerism.
In my opinion, there are the following factors, needed/working to achieve a change:

  • regulations
  • demand/need (by the customers)
  • money (i.e. there is money to be made) (maybe the most effective point)

Never pessimistic, just optimistic about different things and critical of others. What it comes down to for me, as it does in the example you quoted, is that these problems cannot be solved through market solutions - structural, systemic change is the only thing that will fix our problems, and as corporations depend on the economical systems currently in place, they’ll never make that happen. I do think a system that emphasises capital ends up being inherently destructive, yes. We could doubtless have lengthy discussions about that, but this isn’t the forum for that!

Suffice it to say that we need to be holistic when it comes to saving the world, not just chipping away at the symptoms - and offsetting and being a conscious consumer is fighting the symptoms rather than the cause.

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Still, it is hardly helping the cause, if one does not care about that “fighting the symptoms”, as it - in my opinion - needs both. Or how should a system change be successful, if the customer is not willing to be conscious.
To put it short, it is in my opinion rather a “both … and” than an “either … or”.

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I don’t think we’re fundamentally in disagreement about this; the reason I’m wary of consumerism as part of the solution is because too often it ends up being perceived as the solution and we get absolutely nowhere. I’m fine with “both … and” but what I perceive as happening is the symptom pecking taking the place of actual structural change.

People get recyclable plastic bags or donate to the WWF, and call it a day, they’ve done their part, world saved. Which isn’t their fault - this is what we get told as a public. Just offset your carbon and you’re good. Just use a paper bag, just use reusable napkins, and you’re done your bit for people and planet. The focus shifts to small-scale consumer choices that aren’t the actual core of the problem, and the large corporations who actually make these destructive decisions get away scot-free.

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Hi all,

I looked into it and there are probably ways to do this without getting involved with foreign bank accounts, but the cost would be higher. I just listened to the recent podcast and it opened my eyes to just how tricky the whole supply chain is - obviously, to make a decent impact, just buying and selling stock isn’t going to cut it, but it is a start.

I also remember something that Eva kept saying at the FP3 launches and in various interviews - to quote Anita Roddick (?) from Bodyshop, about being the mosquito in the room. I think Fairphone could do more of this, be the mosquito a bit more - why couldn’t they start to name and shame companies by doing an estimate of the additional cost it would add to do things “right”? Fairphone wouldn’t have to actually offer the third-party mass-balancing service to do this, they could just do the calculations/estimates and publish them.

Cheers :slight_smile:

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