Current smartphone manufacturing methods have a hefty carbon footprint. These poor environmental credentials are only worsened by yearly device releases and hard-to-repair phones, contributing to an already overwhelming amount of e-waste. Some of the carbon-intensive components inside the device, like gold, tungsten, and cobalt, may also come from sources with a questionable human rights record.
Amsterdam-based company Fairphone has been working over the past eight years to redesign a more sustainable and ethical smartphone. Its latest model, the 5G Fairphone 4, sets a new industry sustainability standard with a repairable phone made with responsibly sourced materials.
“Thanks to the modular construction and spare parts, anyone can make repairs,” says Monique Lempers, impact innovation director at Fairphone. The back of the phone is made of 100 percent recycled plastic and can be detached without any tools. The other parts, such as the battery, cameras, speakers, and USB port can also easily be removed with a simple screwdriver. While the pieces are designed to last, if something breaks, the company offers spare parts under a five-year warranty.
The goal of making a phone that’s as sustainable as possible also influenced the device’s design. “Our display is 6.3 inches large,” says Lempers. “You may think this is just a design decision, but the truth is that it has to do with spare parts availability. To ensure supply, we needed to choose a display size that is commonly used in the market to make sure we could get a long-term supply. With our five-year warranty, it means we need to have spare parts available for the next six years to come.”
As reported by FastCompany, the team worked with suppliers to find the best available materials, including Fairtrade-certified gold, recycled tin, and conflict-free and fairly made tungsten. Fairphone also has a living wage program that pays workers a bonus for each phone they produce.
The company’s customers receive the phone in plastic-free packaging, with a box designed to be reused to send back old phones for Fairphone to recycle. The firm has a recycling program that recycles e-waste for every phone the company sells.
“Fairphone’s mission is to set the example across our own supply chain and products, using our market demand as a catalyst for continuous improvement,” Lempers says. “We want to inspire the rest of our industry to follow our approach to fair sourcing—to examine the potential for positive impact, and to join us so that we can, together, scale up the solutions that work.”
Image source: Fairphone