Amid the dominance of big tech, where devices are largely perishable, one company is going against the grain.
Fairphone, a Dutch social enterprise founded in 2013, is leading the way in the production of mobile phones of lower environmental impact, leading the way in promoting a tech business model that defies the usual.
As multinational billion-dollar companies continue to rule the market despite business practices criticized for obsolence by design, Fairphone is bravely pushing capitalist limits by embedding sustainability in its production cycle, from sourcing raw materials to ensuring device longevity and promoting worker welfare.
“We believe a fairer electronics industry is possible. By making change from the inside, we’re giving a voice to people who care,” the company says in introducing itself to the world on its website.
Intent at its mission “to change the world,” Fairphone strikes the crucial balance between satisfying human needs while protecting the planet.
“We believe that care for the environment and people should be a natural part of doing business throughout our industry. With suppliers, local communities and the wider industry, we work for fairer materials and more responsible practices – one step at a time,” it says.
“Together we’re disrupting a short-term way of thinking that the world can no longer afford,” the company says.
Here are the ways Fairphone is fighting unfair big tech practices:
- Product longevity
The smartphones of today last for only a few years, with both the hardware and software designed to become obsolete after some time. But Fairphone touts its approach for long-lasting modular design, with long-term repairability built in every single device.
“If an accident happens, just replace the screen and not the whole phone. We’re also working on making software that can be supported for over 5 years. This way, our core value of longevity is designed directly into our smartphones,” it says.
- Promoting reuse and repair to counter the throwaway culture
Fairphone incentivizes the recycling of electronics through a program that promotes reuse of phone parts. For each phone that is sent for recycling, the company offers a cash refund on orders of its Fairphone 3 device. This ensures “valuable materials can be used in a continuous loop.”
Such effort is crucial as electronic waste continues to pile up every year with the high level of tech disposability. The UN Global E-waste Monitor 2020 estimates that 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2019, a 21 percent rise over five years. Fairphone is supporting reduction efforts by also working with partner organizations to boost local e-waste collection, on top of its device repair and reuse program.
- Use of Fair Materials
As Fairphone aims to embed sustainability in its production process, the company ensures that all materials are sourced responsibly, particularly phone components sourced from the mining industry.
It notes how the sector is awash in environment and labor issues, “from pollution to extremely dangerous working conditions to child labor.” Thus it was intentional in ensuring a cleaner and more equitable supply chain.
“We’re making a positive change in materials supply chains by sourcing more responsibly mined materials, increasing our use of recycled materials and actively seeking partners who can help us achieve these goals. One material at a time, we’re working to increase industry and consumer awareness and incorporate better resources into our phones,” Fairphone says.
- Prioritizing Worker Welfare
Fairphone ensures its employees work under the best and most satisfactory conditions, with proper pay, representation and growth opportunities in the company.
Noting how most smartphone firm workers bear the toll of the demand for fast and cheap labor, Fairphone says it is working with labor rights experts, NGOs and production partners to develop “innovative programs to improve worker satisfaction and representation, and to open the lines of communication between workers and management.”
Fairphone’s business model resonates well with Mister Nerdie, where we offer affordable and reliable repair services of electronic devices to extend their shelf life, keeping them away from the world’s already crammed piles of e-waste. In an industry where throwaway tech remains king, it is urgent to support companies that come up with business practices that are both innovative and sustainable.