Raising the bar on smartphones in the EU

Originally published at: Raising the bar on smartphones in the EU - Fairphone

We have already proven that it is possible to make a smartphone that is more sustainable and better for people and planet. But, you know us, we always aim to improve and encourage others in the industry to follow suit.

What is the next thing we are planning, you ask? We want to influence the review of the EU Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC) for mobile phones, cordless phones and tablets – so that smartphones with less environmental impact will be a legal requirement for all manufacturers selling to the EU. As a result of this review, the European Commission has the opportunity to raise the bar and set new rules for the smartphone and tablet industry.

Our mission is to change the electronics industry and influencing the Ecodesign Directive would be a big jump in the transformation we are striving for.

Current status

Current Information and Communication Technology (ICT) CO2 emissions are 5% of the global carbon footprint and that number is expected to rise to 15% by 2040 – smartphones cause 11% of the ICT industry’s share. This large carbon footprint is partly a result of mining and processing the over 50 different materials found in each phone. Since most emissions occur during the production phase, the most important way to reduce that number is to keep our phones much longer than the average 2-3 year lifespan.

Aside from emissions, e-waste is also a huge issue caused by the short average usage time of smartphones. Electronic waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing waste stream on a global scale and is not projected to slow down. Recycling is often presented as the way to solve this issue, however, even if a phone is recycled, only around 30% in weight of the materials can be recovered. Smartphones, which often end up in landfills or incineration plants, cause pollution by emitting hazardous substances into the air and the soil which are harmful to people and the planet. In order to curb the amount of electronic waste that we produce, it is critical to (re)use our phones for much longer!

The responsibility of using our phones longer does not fall squarely on the shoulders of consumers. The context created by the manufacturer doesn’t allow for or incentivize us to use our phones longer. Therefore, the industry must step up to the plate and do its part and create a more sustainable and fairer smartphone to protect people and planet.

The plan

We must make smartphones that last longer, are more durable and are able to be repaired without sending it to the shop! Wait, we already do that! We have proven that all of that is possible and on top of that, we keep software support going for at least five years. Even though we try to encourage more movement in the industry toward offering more sustainable product choices, what if this was not a voluntary commitment but compliance with legislation? The smartphone industry would be on the right track to reducing its large-scale environmental impact and every company would have to innovate their business practices equally.

However, there are some loopholes for manufacturers and missing points that need to be addressed before the above could happen. Loopholes, which allow manufacturers to focus on profit without considering the environmental impact of their smartphones and making it increasingly difficult and expensive for consumers to get their phones repaired. Therefore, we would like the European Working Group to close any loopholes and make repairs possible, affordable and accessible for everyone. There is no reason why ordering spare parts should be difficult and expensive. There is no reason why you, as a consumer, shouldn’t be able to repair your own phone.

Our demand

It’s time to demand that we, as consumers, should own all parts of our phone, including the repair, being able to uninstall software updates and having access to spare parts and repair information. It’s time more sustainable smartphones become mainstream and it’s time that consumers and manufacturers demand the same.

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I wonder who works out these figures and what data they use, it all seems rather unconvincing yet it seems so much is based on the idea that we can consume less.

Have been talking about this for half a century and conversely more consumerism seems to be the way each of us goes and with an every increasing population the idea seems more relevant.

But is it ? Many people mouthwash with the words but their income and lifestyle tell a different tale.

The best I have seen is the Fairtrade, which is why I have an FP3, but whereas that may help raise some from a degree of poverty it is an anathema to reducing consumption.

As we reduce our usage of one resource we just use another. It doesn’t really matter what elements we use or if we covert more photons away from vegetation, the biodiversity of the environment can’t recover, it’s gone. So we have zoos and in some of them we have fairtrade.

With respect to this topic, are there any way FP or people like us can influence regulations such that they place more emphasis on more sustainable smartphone design?

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