Fairphone Promotes Sustainable Smartphone

Aims to tackle environmental impact of smartphone consumption

Fairphone is a Dutch smartphone company that few people have ever heard of, but it could be setting a commendable example for an industry that has a business model based on frequent hardware upgrades. It’s true that mobile phone users in all advanced markets are holding on to their phones for longer than before, but a significant number of them still change phones every 24 months or less.

This week, Fairphone unveiled the third iteration of its modular device, the Fairphone 3. The company says that it uses sustainably and ethically sourced materials like gold, tin and tungsten, and recycled plastic and copper, and provides good working conditions for employees in its factories.

Fairphone CEO Eva Gouwens said in a press release that the new smartphone is designed to be “a real sustainable alternative on the market”. Realizing that its handset is a drop in the global smartphone ocean, the company says it hopes to motivate the entire industry to act more ethically and responsibly in developing, manufacturing and recycling its products.

The environmentally friendly approach doesn’t stop with the sourcing of materials. The new phone has a modular design that allows easy repairs by users. This includes changing batteries and screens, which could address two of the big reasons why people upgrade to a new phone: declining battery performance and cracked screens. The company expects the lifespan of the Fairphone 3 to be close to five years and has set its business strategy to focus on selling spare parts within this period.

The device, expected to have a retail price of about $500, is a relatively standard mid-level smartphone, but as the company’s CEO says, not everyone needs the most powerful phone. Fairphone 3 is a dual-SIM device that runs the Android 9 operating system on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 632 processor and has 4GB of RAM. It features a full high definition screen protected by Gorilla Glass, an eight-megapixel lens on the front and a 12-megapixel camera with a Sony sensor on the back, a 3,000 mAh battery, 64GB of storage with expandable microSD storage, NFC and a 3.5 mm headphone jack.

With these specifications for its latest device, Fairphone is facing solid competition from well-established brands, but the company is hoping to differentiate itself on its ethical principles. According to our analysis, 18 billion new mobile phones were sold worldwide in the past 10 years, and just over a third of those are still in use; many of the rest are sitting in drawers or have made their way to landfills. As awareness quickly grows of the damage that consumption of all sorts of products is causing to the climate and the environment, it’s no surprise that a business is looking to address the segment of the most environmentally conscious people.

Fairphone has won support from some high-profile operators like Sky Mobile in the UK. However, the smartphone market is hugely competitive and people’s loyalty to phone brands is strong, especially when it comes to brands like Apple and Samsung. Success is far from guaranteed for Fairphone, but the company has set an example for others to follow. Technology companies, selling tens and hundreds of millions of consumer products per year, will have to become more attuned to people’s attitudes toward protecting our planet.

CCS Insight will explore some of the effects of the environmental crisis, and the growing awareness of it, on the tech industry at our Predictions for 2020 and Beyond event in London on 3 October 2019. Join us! For more information see here.