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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Reusing and Remanufacturing Mobile Devices Can Cut CO2 by 50% While Increasing Sales

New strategies for reuse and remanufacturing of mobile devices can cut the carbon footprint of each device by up to half while expanding sales, according to a new report from the Green Alliance.

A circular economy for smart devices identifies how laptops, tablets and smartphones up to five years old can be profitably recovered and resold in the UK, US and India. It describes six business models that companies can use to adapt to consumer preferences for lower cost, longer-lasting electronics and how reuse can bring the benefits of internet connected devices to new consumers in the developing world.

1. Extend software longevity

Manufacturers currently have little incentive to support older operating systems with consistent software updates because they profit based on device sales not longevity. But research firm Bernstein claims that smartphones with unsupported operating systems have "limited to no resale value," and the report suggests longer software support could lead to reputational benefits as customers are more likely to buy long lasting items with higher resale value.

2. Encourage resale

Between 27 percent and 36 percent of US consumers said they keep an old phone because they "don't know what to do with it." Another 17 percent were just "too lazy" to get rid of them. A possible solution the report offers is for software companies to detect when a user upgrades to a new phone, find its value on several resale sites, send a prepaid envelope and automatically credit the user's bank account.

3. Promote repair

Second-hand devices requiring minor repair are worth repairing for three to five years after sale, even after logistical and refurbishment costs are conbsidered, the report says. The vast majority of repairs are for screens and batteries, so making these more modular and easier to repair would have a significant impact on repair rates.

4. Offload on the cloud

This model accelerates the trend of offloading functionality to the cloud, seen in software like Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs, Opera Mini and others. It is done by shifting away from selling a device and access to the cloud (the traditional smartphone model) or device only (common for tablets and laptops). Instead, it promotes servitization: selling a service that bundles access, device and performance together.

5. Harvest and remanufacture parts

This model would extend modularity to include improved disassemblability and compatibility of other parts. It would enable the reuse of components when the device is otherwise not able to be repaired. It would also preserve high embodied carbon components, such as integrated circuits, which contribute 35 percent of a smartphone's carbon footprint. Companies like Phonebloks and Puzzlephone are already working on technology such as this.

6) DIY repair

Many tech manufacturers discourage in-home repairs — Toshiba has refused to release its repair manuals, citing intellectual property rights and Apple has developed proprietary screws to prevent customers from opening their devices. As a result increased reparability and information is easy to apply but not obviously beneficial for manufacturers. However, the report encourages manufacturers to change their behavior, citing an iFixit where users say successful repair makes them more likely to buy another product from the same manufacturer.

“Smartphones, tablets and laptops are spreading the benefits of internet access across the globe,” said Dustin Benton, author of the report. “But their production is increasingly carbon intensive, and rapid upgrades mean too many good devices end up abandoned in cupboards and desk drawers, before ending up as e-waste. If companies can make reuse easier, they can boost sales and cut environmental impact.”


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