Greenpeace East Asia has released a new IT product guide ranking tech giants according to iFixit’s repairability score. Seventeen IT brands were represented in the study and over 40 best-selling smartphones, tablets and laptops launched between 2015 and 2017 were assessed.
The ranking system considers the time required to repair the product, the device’s upgradability and modularity, as well as the availability of spare parts and repair manuals. A device with a perfect score is one that is relatively inexpensive to repair because it is easy to disassemble and has a service manual available. Points were docked based on the difficulty of opening the device, the types of fasteners found inside and the complexity involved in replacing major components. Points were awarded for upgradability, use of non-proprietary tools for servicing and component modularity.
It should come as no surprise then that Fairphone, Dell and HP scored top spots. According to Greenpeace’s report they are the only companies that make spare parts and repair manuals available to the public.
“Improving the repairability of electronic products is technically achievable and brands should be prioritizing this in their product design,” said Gary Cook, IT Sector Analyst at Greenpeace USA. “As a first step, it’s critical that all brands follow in the footsteps of Dell, Fairphone and HP and make repair manuals and spare parts publicly available.”
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Fairphone has distinguished itself as a leader in both ethics and sustainability with the development of its signature modular smartphones that are designed with repairability in mind and use materials that are responsibly sourced and/or recycled. The company’s Fairphone and Fairphone 2 scored 10 out of 10 for their battery and display replaceability and the availability of spare parts.
Dell also received top marks for its Latitude E5270 (10/10) and XPS 13 (7/10) laptops. The tech giant uses recycled materials to create its line of laptops, desktop computers and tablets and has exceeded its 2020 goal of using 50 million pounds of sustainable materials in its products. Additionally, the company has begun using ocean plastics in its packaging and 94 percent of current Dell packaging is recyclable or compostable.
Having launched the world’s first comprehensive supply chain management program based on climate science, there’s no question that HP is getting serious about sustainability. The company scored high on Greenpeace and iFixit’s product guide for its Elite X2 1012 G1 tablet and Elitebook 840 G3 Notebook PC, with each scoring 10 out of 10.
“A number of products from Apple, Samsung and Microsoft are increasingly being designed in ways that make it difficult for users to fix, which shortens the lifespan of these devices and adds to growing stockpiles of e-waste,” said Cook.
The report revealed a general sector shift away from repairability, largely due to increasing design complexity, combined with the practice of soldering or gluing separate pieces together, making repairing time consuming. Samsung and LG’s smartphones and Apple’s have become increasingly less repairable over time.
Nearly 70 percent of all of the devices tested had batteries that were impossible or difficult to replace due to design decisions and the use of strong adhesives to affix the battery to the casing. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 smartphone and Apple’s Retina MacBook exemplify this bad practice, with batteries thoroughly adhered to the device panels. While the Note7 was not considered in this analysis, Samsung might have been able to avoid recalling millions of devices if the phone’s design had enabled easy battery removal.
To discourage user repair, many devices require the use of non-standard tools to work with proprietary screws and other parts. Apple’s iPhone, Oppo’s R9m and Huawei’s P9 are just some of the devices that require special tools to conduct repairs.
Additionally, very few electronics manufacturers provide users with information about how to fix their products. Greenpeace’s report revealed that out of the 17 brands represented in the survey, only three — Dell, Fairphone and HP — provide all spare parts and repair manuals.
“Electronics take a massive amount of energy, human effort and natural resources to make. And yet, manufacturers produce billions more of them every year, while consumers keep them just for a few years before tossing them away,” said Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit. “E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. We should be able to make electronics a more sustainable part of our lives.”
In response to its findings, Greenpeace has called upon the IT sector to design products that can be more easily repaired or upgraded and offer adequate post-sale support. By making spare parts such as batteries, displays and other components with high failure rates available to customers for at least seven years and by promoting standards and laws that encourage product repair, brands can make repairing accessible and affordable for consumers.
Making devices that can be repaired and last longer is the most significant step that brands can take to reduce the various environmental impacts associated with electronics manufacturing — from the extraction of raw materials through to the hazardous chemicals and the large amounts of energy used in manufacturing. Devices that can be easily disassembled for repair are also easier to disassemble for reuse and recycling. Components can be used again and, if not, recycled to recover the valuable raw materials.