Last call for sustainable smartphones

Smartphones that are designed to be fixed instead of designed to break – that’s the demand of the Right to Repair campaign.

The campaign is calling on the European Commission to make extending the lifetime of our favourite devices a priority in its new circular economy strategy due next month.

They don’t make them like they used to.

This week, NGOs launched a new campaign – including an EU-wide petition – to demand smartphones sold in the EU are designed to be repaired and last longer.

Every day people have to replace their smartphones because repairs are too expensive, difficult or impossible, said Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, a product policy expert with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), one of the groups involved in the campaign.

The campaign for sustainable smartphones was launched by Right to Repair Europe, a coalition of NGOs, community groups and small businesses.

The groups want the EU to set minimum manufacturing requirements that would force companies like Samsung, Huawei and Apple to design smartphones that can be disassembled with readily available tools. This would make it much easier to replace a cracked screen and a weak battery.  

They also want manufacturers to provide spare parts and repair information to all repairers and consumers – something that would boost the availability and affordability of repair services.

With an average lifespan of three years and annual sales of over 200 million units, the production of Europe’s smartphones has the largest climate impact among small electronics. A report by the EEB and Right to Repair Europe found that the full lifecycle of our phones is responsible for 14 million tonnes of emissions (CO2eq) each year, which is more than the carbon budget of Latvia in 2017.

Increasing their lifetime by just one year would save more than 2 million tonnes of emissions, the report concluded.

The climate impact of smartphones (European Environmental Bureau 2019)

Intelligent design

The campaign for sustainable smartphones was launched by Right to Repair Europe, a coalition of NGOs, community groups and small businesses.

The coalition achieved its first major victory last year, when they lobbied for the introduction of the first Right to Repair requirements for TVs, fridges, freezers, washing machines and other home appliances. The requirements were agreed under the EU Ecodesign Directive, which forces manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of the products they place on the market.

Now, NGOs see a unique window of opportunity to add smartphones to this list. If their voice is heard, repairable smartphones could become one of the EU’s priorities set out under the upcoming Ecodesign Working Plan and Circular Economy Action Plans.

Announced as one of the pillars in the EU Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan is going to play a major role in Europe’s fight for corporate responsibility and climate action.

Already in December, the European Commission promised “reusable, durable and repairable products” in the final text of the EU Green Deal. The Circular Economy Action Plan “will analyse the need for a ‘right to repair’, and curb the built-in obsolescence of devices, in particular for electronics,” EU officials wrote.