The Ethical Smartphone Revolution Is Now. Here’s How To Get On Board

Apple will reportedly launch three new iPhones in 2018. The tech giant’s latest model, the iPhone X, came out in early November, priced at £999.

Now, we don’t have the stats, but we’re pretty confident that a fair few super fans who ran to buy the latest release will be all over an even newer one when it comes out: lured in by shiny super screens and even fancier cameras.

When you factor in that the average person in the UK checks their smartphone 85 times a day, according to a 2015 study from Nottingham Trent University, it looks like our relationship with our smartphones is broken – a carousel of upgrades and mindless scrolling. Layer on that every mobile generates 94kg of carbon dioxide emissions in its lifetime, and it feels like something we need to radically reassess.

Step up: Fairphone. An ethical tech brand founded in 2010, with the aim of pushing against the industry’s use of conflict minerals and dirty supply chains, it’s launched two devices that have clean trading and sustainability at their heart.

We caught up with Fabian Hühne, who works as a spokesperson for the company, to find out more the ethical alternative.

After the first Fairphone handset launched in 2013, it was clear that a smartphone that treats people and the planet well was something people were willing to spend on, he tells us.

After the first handset, the Fairphone 2 was released as the world’s first modular phone. It can be taken apart, piece by piece, making repairs easier. The idea is that this device will stay with you for years, rather than being something that will wear out and need upgrading on an annual basis.

“Most smartphone design choices mean that you can’t replace or repair any part of your device, making your experience more expensive and less eco-friendly,” Fabian says.

At £425 for the handset (or you can buy a plan with 600 minutes and one gigabyte of data at £33 a month at The Phone Co-Op) it’s not the swankiest phone for the least cash. But with options to do stuff like trade your camera module for a new one, it could be a more cost effective plan in the long term.

A post shared by Fairphone (@fairphone) on Nov 11, 2017 at 11:00am PST
A large amount of harmful emissions generated during the life of a mobile phone come from the production process, so extending your handset’s life creates a knock-on effect on the amount of smartphones going into production each day.

“It creates less waste and uses less resources. What we really want to do is create a cultural change,” Fabian tells us.

Fairphone are also working to do good in other less-than-ethical areas of the technology world. They buy electronic waste, so that it can be recycled in a sustainable way, work closely with all of its manufacturers to improve working conditions, and were the first smartphone manufacturer to use Fairtrade gold.

They also pride themselves in their commitment to transparency. Their decision to open up access to all the details of their supply chain shows their determination to prioritise ethics over profit.

“We want our customers to know what we’re doing and what our challenges are, so that they are a part of our campaign,” Fabian says.

This is a brave step, especially due to the increasing evidence that the tech industry operates under a certain amount of “planned obsolescence”, a concept at the forefront of co-founder of Fairphone Kwame Ferreira’s mind.

So if you trade in your smartphone every year or two, not only are you barely involved with its mechanical journey but you’re feeding into the idea that a product needs to be replaced instead of repaired, filling the pockets of large brands and sacrificing cash of your own.

“You can repair a broken down part of your car, so why not phones? Other objects in technology need to offer the same services,” Fabian says.

This way, users interact with their smartphone for longer and feel more connected to it because they are involved with their repair and upgrade stages.

A post shared by Fairphone (@fairphone) on Sep 15, 2016 at 4:55am PDT
But it’s not all perfect. Fabian is eager to point out that all the time that the tech industry operates as it does, it is impossible for any smartphone or tech company to be one hundred per cent fair, due to the lack of transparency and ethics in various levels of the supply chain.

While in some industries (such as jewellery), it is advised to ensure that materials are sourced from conflict-free countries, Fairphone have chosen a different tack.

“We don’t avoid conflict-free countries,” Fabian tells us. “Instead, we work with NGOs in those countries to support the local economy. When there is conflict, not the entire region is always affected.”

In the coming years, Fairphone are intent on doing all that they can to enhance the various facets of their sustainable effort, and trying to push their competitors to take technology in the most eco-friendly direction possible.

“We want to inspire the rest of the industry to follow some of the examples that we’ve set,” Fabian tells us.

“Smartphones are so symbolic of where we are at as a society. A repairable phone is just common sense at this point.”

We know what we’re doing the next time our contract’s up.

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