Fairphone’s Path to the Top of the Sustainability Pyramid

Today, on Thursday 14th September 2023, sales began of the most environmentally friendly smartphone ever made: the Fairphone 5. To mark the occasion, Counterpoint Research has just published a profile report on Fairphone, which looks into Fairphone’s performance as a sustainability pioneer over the last year, and assesses its future prospects. Here are some of the highlights.

Fairphone is the pioneer of smartphone circularity

Fairphone is undoubtably the most sustainable smartphone company in the world, and is a pioneer of smartphone circularity. Through all three stages of the smartphone circular economy – production, use and end of life – Fairphone has developed initiatives that increase the sourcing and use of sustainable materials, maximise the lifespan of its devices and minimise e-waste, while maintaining ethical business practises.

In terms of production, sustainability is at the core of the design, with market leading use of sustainable materials and an innovative modular design. The latter is key to Fairphone’s party piece: the ability for the user to do simple repairs and battery swaps, by themselves at home with some basic tools. This extends the life of the device, helped by a five-year warranty and market leading software support (five years for Fairphone 4, extended to eight years for Fairphone 5). All in all, Fairphone incentivises people to use their phone for longer. And finally, when it comes to the end of a device’s life, Fairphone refurbishes and re-sells old phones, or re-uses/recycles their parts. In addition, Fairphone is e-waste neutral, where for each phone sold, a used phone is given a new life or an equivalent amount of e-waste is recycled).

Circularity summary for Fairphone

Others are taking sustainability seriously, and are catching up

With these initiatives, Fairphone sets the benchmark against which other manufacturers should be compared. In an ideal world, all smartphones would be made the Fairphone way, and indeed, one of Fairphone’s goals is to motivate and encourage other smartphone OEMs to adopt more sustainable business models.

But this is easier said than done. It is one thing to create a sustainable smartphone when you are producing two models at any one time and selling 116,000 of them a year. It is entirely another thing to replicate that when you have hundreds of models in your portfolio and sell hundreds of millions of phones a year.

Nevertheless, consumers are becoming increasingly aware and concerned about their environmental impact, so sustainability amongst smartphone OEMs will become more and more important. By blazing the sustainability trail and showing others what can be achieved, Fairphone can influence larger players, such as Samsung and Apple but especially most Chinese OEMs who are sustainability laggards, to up their game and move the industry in a fairer direction.

Of course, as others improve, Fairphone’s USP may diminish. Fairphone could end up being the architect of its own downfall.

The full report is available here.

Jan is an Associate Director with Counterpoint Research, based in London, and leads the company’s research in Europe. He is a seasoned analyst with over 13 years’ experience in the TMT sector, most recently with GSMA Intelligence where he was responsible for key research deliverables and led a team of analysts producing highly impactful regional insights. Before that, Jan held strategy and analyst positions at Vodafone and Qualcomm, and started his career with research firm TNS (now Kantar).

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