Say what you will about modular smartphones—and there’s certainly plenty to say—they do have one very clear benefit over the phones folks most commonly carry around in their pockets: reducing electronic waste. Throwing our gadgets away because we do not know how to fix them or simply can’t continues to take a huge toll on our global waste crisis, with potentially disastrous outcomes. It doesn’t help that the manufacturers who make the majority of these products aren’t doing much to help us lessen our impact.
Fairphone, however, appears to be a rare objector. The Dutch company this week announced the launch of the third generation of its module phone, the Fairphone 3, which appears to prioritize transparency, accessibility, and greater usability over gigantic piles of money (ahem, Apple). With the release of its latest smartphone model that improves on the Fairphone 2, the company shows it’s committed to challenging a pattern of companies using their monopolies to hold repairs and sustainability hostage with a white-knuckled grip.
Part of the reason we as consumers so quickly cycle through our devices is twofold: lack of choice (or inability) around repairing them and exorbitant and often arbitrarily priced repair costs. Think of it this way: If you break your phone—hell, if you break just the screen—and the cost of repairing it is only slightly less than buying a brand new one, you’d buy the spanking new one, right? Probably so!
But if you could buy the original equipment manufacturer parts for pennies on the dollar and either do the repair yourself or get it on the cheap, wouldn’t doing the cheap repair on an otherwise totally functional—or even relatively new—device be worth it? That’s the argument made by right to repair advocates who rally around the need for consumers to be able to fix their own stuff. Not to mention, there are serious humanitarian and environmental impacts to back up the movement.
Nathan Proctor, who leads the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Right to Repair campaign, commended the Fairphone 3, telling Gizmodo by email, “[i]t’s terrific to see a manufacturer trying to address the most important downsides of our smartphones. They are a tiny part of the market, but a reminder that the bigger manufacturers could do better if they want to.”
An acknowledgment of these facts—something that’s uncommon in the smartphone industry—seems to be the model around which Fairphone positions its products in the marketplace. In an announcement for the Fairphone 3’s launch this week, the company specifically pointed to myriad problems at the heart of the booming device biz, including carbon dioxide emissions, electronic waste, poor sourcing practices, and miserable working conditions.
Fairphone calls its own product “a more ethical, reliable and sustainable phone” and “a phone that is designed to last.” To ensure that, the phone is made up of seven modules—including an 8 MP front-facing camera and a 12 MP Dual Pixel rear-facing camera—that can be easily switched with repair parts. The phone comes standard with Gorilla Glass 5 as well as 64 GB that can be expanded to more than 256 GB with a MicroSD card. It also comes with Android 9, but TechCrunch reports that a future upgrade will allow users to instead opt for the Android Open Source Project.
Lastly, not only does the company home in on sourcing its materials responsibly—such as by using recycled copper and plastics and conflict-free materials—it said it will reward consumers who return their phones through Fairphone’s recycling program.
A spokesperson for the company did not immediately return a request for comment. However, Fairphone CEO Eva Gouwens said in a statement that the company “developed the Fairphone 3 to be a real sustainable alternative on the market, which is a big step towards lasting change. By establishing a market for ethical products, we want to motivate the entire industry to act more responsibly since we cannot achieve this change alone.”