Monday, July 15, 2024

The Fairphone 4 is Creating a Smartphone Sustainable Mineral Supply Chain

The smartphone market has exploded in popularity since the mid-2000s. Smartphone shipments worldwide added up to around 1.2 billion units in 2022, declining from 2021. By the end of 2022, 68 percent of the world’s population were smartphone users. From flagship products like the iPhone to the Samsung S series to giant makers like Oppo, smartphones have innovated cameras, gestures and internet access in the span of a dozen years.


The speed and success of the smartphone market is nothing if not extraordinary, but that growth is set to stall. The malaise growing within the smartphone market has been increasing to the point even WIRED, a leading tech publication dared to ask “Have we reached peak smartphone?”


In 2023, it is hard for even flagships to find new reasons to bring out yearly hardware upgrades. Cameras on the latest iPhone 13 are just as good as on the 12, and the new Samsung screens do much of what its earlier iterations did. If companies are looking to innovate into the 2020s they need to focus on reducing the negative aspects of the smartphone market.

The Fairphone 4 is Creating a Smartphone Sustainable Mineral Supply Chain


Where Smartphones Have Failed

Smartphones have allowed even the most rural people to connect to the internet in a consumer-friendly and cost-effective manner. This has had incredible results for economic activity, political organizing and social relationships. But the industry is not all good, in making these revolutionary products the industry is responsible for some decidedly negative problems.


One of the biggest problems with smartphones is their production. Minerals used in phone batteries are connected to illegal and violent sources in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Makers like Foxconn are also implicated in the manufacturing process of phones, where they pay Asian workers below a living wage. Add to the human elements the very real environmental costs. The industry is driven by constant upgrading and replacing of phones one year or two years old. This means consumers are throwing away almost new phones every year, even if there is nothing wrong with it. Sometimes companies will even create problems with phones, this is known as planned obsolescence.


According to BBVA Open Mind, smartphone recycling is below 15% in developed countries. Over the years this means more cobalt being pulled from illegal mines, more plastic thrown into oceans and more GHC emissions from mineral extraction. Makers of the FairPhone have worked to innovate the industry away from these harmful practices towards an equitable smartphone supply chain.

The Fairphone 4 is Creating a Smartphone Sustainable Mineral Supply Chain


What Makes the FairPhone so Fair?


In 2010 three organizations based in Amsterdam, the Waag Society, Action Aid and Schrijf-Schrijf raised awareness about conflict minerals in consumer electronics and the wars that the mining of these minerals is fueling the DR Congo. When the three collaborators realized campaigning was not affecting change the way they wished, they decided to start a social enterprise that would ethically source and sustainably produce a phone. In 2013 FairPhone was launched.


Using concepts of circularity, solidarity and worker cooperation FairPhone not only source minerals fairly, but also recycle their phone parts and offer modularity for consumers. Circularity is a process of recycling and reusing products. FairPhone makes sure to recycle as much of its phones as possible, and also use recycled materials in its phones. The company also shares profits with its workers. Factory workers producing Fairphone devices in China were given a living wage bonus that’s the equivalent of an extra four months’ salary in 2020. The company has worked hard to source materials like Tungsten from countries that can better track its extraction, like Rwanda, and is working to do the same with all its materials.


With FairPhone consumers can be assured their products are good for humans and the environment, and it can help save them money too. FairPhone is not interested in profits but to make a good product. The lifecycle of phones is much longer, and if one piece fails the company has a wall of piece replacements that can be self-fixed.  Modular, ethical and efficient the FairPhone 4 is its latest iteration. As a social enterprise FairPhone shows that their is another way to commercial success. By caring.