Most of us depend on our mobile phones in our modern lives but we are also concerned about the social and environmental consequences of the extraction of the resources involved and the built-in obsolescence of so many models.

Fairphone is a small award-winning Dutch company that addresses these issues and more.

Its initial motivation was sourcing from conflict-free areas so they set up their own conflict-free initiative in Rwanda and the business has grown from there. Child protection policies are in place and miners are paid a fair wage and work in safe conditions.

The longer we use our phones, the smaller their environmental footprint

It is estimated that we can reduce our device’s annual carbon emissions by 31% if we keep it for 5 years, a figure that increases to 44% after another 7.  So, the longer we use our phones, the smaller their environmental footprint. Fairphone designs for longevity, easy repair and modular upgrades, aiming to make its hardware last as long as possible, thus reducing e-waste.  Many of its components are made from recycled materials and when you buy a phone, that is just what you get.  The other part of a normal phone ‘package’ – cable, charger, adaptor etc. – are all available separately if needed but, as most of us already have these things, forcing yet more of them on us is considered wasteful and unnecessary.  They even encourage us to reuse the existing Simcard from our old phones if we wish. 

The Fairphone’s parts are not glued together and are intentionally easy to take apart and repair – you can buy an iFixit Screwdriver for £4.50 – and they even provide online tutorials and local ‘Angels’ to advise.  A life-cycle assessment report confirms that replacing or repairing parts reduces the environmental impact.

Recycling materials

Fairphone admits that its long-term aim of complete circularity is still some way away.  Nevertheless, with an estimated up to 300 million old phones lying abandoned in drawers in France and Germany alone, most of them still working, they are keen to buy old phones and recycle the materials.  They also partner with organizations that collect e-waste in African countries with no responsible recycling infrastructure.  In 2020, for example, they shipped 5 tons of batteries and 1,500 phones from Nigeria to Europe for responsible recycling.

None of this means that Fairphones fall short on technology.  The technical specs of the latest version, the Fairphone 4, equal those of any other modern Smartphone.

Fairphone is and will probably remain a small company but it has had a large influence on the bigger players in the field.  Apple, for example, is known for sourcing conflict-free minerals and are now addressing their environmental footprint.

You can read much more about Fairphone on their website https://www.fairphone.com where you will also find this declaration:

‘We care about human rights and worker well-being.

We care about the climate and our planet’s delicate ecosystem.

We care about designing longer-lasting products that are easier to repair.’

If only more companies cared so much!

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