An Amsterdam startup designed and crowdsourced a new Android smartphone. The Fairphone is created on the principle that manufacturing must be done with minimal harm to the planet.
Human beings are natural collectors of stuff. In fact, society seems to be driven by consumerism. Most people buy, use, and discard electronic products with little thought to how that might impact the environment. There are even collectors with a passion for electronic devices, yet how many of them ever wonder what is inside their devices or who made them? Who are all those people working from where the supply chain starts to where it comes to an end in the form of a smartphone? What is their contribution to the smartphone you use daily? What are they getting in return?
People and the environment first
The Fairphone team members asked themselves questions of this kind and more. They went on a crusade far from their headquarters in Amsterdam to find the answers. They visited mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the manufacturing site in China. They decided to improve conditions for workers on the supply chain that would be part of the Fairphone. They built an e-waste program, and they started a crowdsourced program to pre-sell their sustainable smartphone, which is designed to put people and the environment first.
Fairphone shared a variety of images with EBN. Click the photo below for a slideshow of the process of creating the Fairphone from start to finish.
Electronic printed circuit boards (PCBs) contain at least 32 kinds of minerals. Fairphone wants to underscore the importance of proper recycling and preventing e-waste. It organizes workshops and other "urban mining" events at festivals, schools, and fairs. This picture was taken
at a 2011 event in the Netherlands.
Some sustainable features of the project include:
- Conflict-free tin and tantalum (from the DRC)
- Rootable OS
- Worker welfare
- Replaceable battery
- E-waste program
- Dual SIM
Fairphone has put a complete list of specs on its website. It is also maintaining a Log Book of changes/updates to the phone. From the Sept. 13 entry:
The original model on which Fairphone was based formerly used normal polycarbonate. Now, we can announce that after quite some tests, our manufacturer made it possible to instead use post-consumer recycled polycarbonate. That means a lot of old devices being smashed, melted and reused! And fewer CO2 emissions, of course.
Conflict-Free Tin Initiative
Fairphone joined the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative (CFTI) on a visit to a tin mine in the eastern DRC. The CFTI says its aim is "to create demand for conflict-free tin from this region," and to create "a prospect for economic development and regional stability."
The company will use conflict-free tin for soldering phone components at the assembly stage. Mobile phones contain more than 30 different kinds of minerals and metals, including copper, cobalt, gold, and tin. Tin and other metals and minerals that come from areas with severe internal conflicts are known as conflict minerals because, more frequently than not, they are sold by warlords.
From beginning to end
In the video below, Joe Mier, community manager at Fairphone, explains the timeline from pre-orders in May to getting the conflict-free minerals, the software development in Portugal, and building the support center in Amsterdam.
Expectation and support
The pre-order program, which is still open and available in Europe, has been a success. At the time of this writing, 15,230 of the first batch of 25,000 phones being manufactured had been sold. The price, including taxes in Europe, is €325 ($440).
When a new smartphone is announced, there are always expectations among the news media, enterprises, and consumers about how the newcomer will play the game, what OS it will run, what innovative features it will have, and so on. In the case of the Fairphone, I am pretty sure innovation comes hand in hand with a proposal for looking at a smartphone with different eyes.
Having the environment, e-waste reality, worker welfare, and the conflict-free minerals in mind, this company is thinking beyond creating a multimillion-dollar account for itself.