Social enterprise Fairphone produces long-living, environmentally conscious smartphones

By producing a smartphone ourselves, we can open up the supply chain, find out where the materials come from and use commercial strategies to maximize our social impact at every stage of the value chain.
Fairphone 3
Ioiana Luncheon

Your phone is probably one of the most important things you own today. You listen to your music on it, plan your calendar and use it to keep in touch with your friends. However, even though a smartphone isn’t a cheap investment, the average smartphone user in the US and other parts of the world upgrades their phone every 22 months, even though the device isn’t even damaged or in need of repairs. The UN estimates that worldwide, we are throwing away £50bn of electronic devices with a weight of 50 million tonnes. Social enterprise Fairphone produces a smartphone that improves workers conditions by using their own supply chain, giving customers the option to easily repair and upgrade their phone when needed and having a reuse/recycling scheme.

With easy replacements being a faster and sometimes even cheaper option than repairing broken electronics, phones, televisions and others have become semi disposable objects. Fairphone fights against this trend with giving their customers the option to repair and replace damaged pieces in their phones and therefore reducing the environmental impact created by consumer electronics. Fairphone’s Ioiana Luncheon talked to Julia Brunner about the history of Fairphone, what makes it so sustainable and Fairphone’s recycling service.

Julia Brunner (JB): What is the story behind Fairphone?

Ioiana Luncheon (IL): Fairphone started in 2010 as a project to raise awareness about conflict minerals in consumer electronics and the wars that the mining of these minerals fuel in the DR Congo. The campaign and related research ran for three years. In 2013, Fairphone was officially established as a social enterprise in the mobile phone market. Our vision is to transform electronics into an industry where taking care of people and planet is a natural part of doing business. By producing a smartphone ourselves, we can open up the supply chain, find out where the materials come from and use commercial strategies to maximize our social impact at every stage of the value chain.

JB: What is the difference between a Fairphone and the average smartphone?

IL: The Fairphone is made by a social enterprise, which is a different kind of player. Our role is to challenge the status quo and speed up improvements by being innovative in our own supply chain and by bringing the customer closer to the production process. We are creating market demand for ethical products. In the production of our phone, we have four areas in which we want to create change: long-lasting design, fair materials, good working conditions and reuse/recycling. In each area, we are changing and improving our phone and our own supply chain.

Two men in front of collected phones.
Collected phones. Photo: Fairphone
Washed Tungsten, Rwanda
Washed Tungsten, Rwanda. Photo: Fairphone

JB: Many people replace their phones after roughly two years due to a new model being on the market, support for the phone running out or because the lifecycle of the product is already over. What is the average lifespan of a Fairphone?

IL: Fairphone’s goal is to support phones for as long as possible, we aim to give software support for five years from the product launch, which is something we’ve done for the Fairphone 2 with Android 9.

JB: What makes the new Fairphone 3+ so sustainable?

IL: We’re putting the full potential of our modular phone into practice. With the Fairphone 3+, we make it easy for our customers to use their phones longer. Thanks to the modular construction and spare parts, anyone can do repairs or upgrade their own phone. Instead of designing a completely new phone, we’re improving the capabilities of our latest model – extending its lifespan to reduce the environmental footprint. Using the Fairphone 3+ for five years (instead of replacing it after three years) can reduce CO2 emissions by about 30%.

Exploded View of the Fairphone 3 plus
Exploded View of the Fairphone 3+ Photo: Fairphone

JB: Fairphone offers its own recycling service where old phones will be given a new life. Can you tell me a bit more about the service?

IL: For all Fairphone customers, we offer our free recycling program. That means people can send in their old phones to be reused or recycled, depending on what condition they are in. Fairphones and spare parts are recycled with the help of our repair partners.

Fairphone 3
Fairphone 3 Photo: Fairphone

JB: What are your plans for the future?

IL: In the next five years, we will focus on further raising our profile by moving to a larger audience and strengthening our position in the industry, so that we can increase our positive impact.

This interview had been edited and condensed for clarity.

On Our Radar focuses on sustainable ideas and environmental innovations. We explore intersections of design with green solutions, innovative projects to tackle issues around the environment and learn more about how green changemakers work on reducing human impact on the environment with their social enterprises and projects.

Eco-Spotlight is a digital publication that focuses on different aspects of climate change solutions: projects and ideas focused on sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, environmental businesses, eco-friendly practices, and similar green initiatives. Through our solution-focused interviews and articles, we want to bring good news to the forefront and remind the world – without hope, there is no future. We also syndicate our content with White Print, India’s first English lifestyle magazine in Braille.

You can check other stories that are on our radar on Eco-Spotlight’s website and learn more about Fairphone on their website.

Hello there! I'm Julia, co-founder of Eco-Spotlight and a freelance journalist. With Eco-Spotlight, I want to focus on sharing stories of inspirational people and positive impact, as well as learn more about the environment, and sustainability.

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