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Notes on the environmental performance of the Fairphone 2

At Fairphone we do quite a few activities that are often overshadowed by the bigger, more publicized projects we do. While we need to create a more detailed report covering the environmental performance of the Fairphone 2 (and this will come later this year 2016), there are a number of facts that we would like to share, as we receive a variety of questions from different stakeholders related to this.

Please note, this is not an exhaustive list of topics. We will continue to update the information in this article until we have a dedicated annual report on environmental performance.


Packaging and logistics
We are frequently asked about how we get our products to customers and what we do to reduce environmental impact on this front. It is, though, important to put things in perspective and say that the environmental impact related to packaging and logistics is around 5% of the total impact in the product lifecycle.

Nevertheless, during the process of developing and shipping the Fairphone 1, we identified areas where we could make our logistics more efficient and environmentally friendly. For Fairphone 2 we focused on making improvements in a couple of areas:

  • Reduce the overall volume of shipments from Asia to Europe. Our innovative packaging approach has been key to this improvement: We ship phones in bulk from the factory to our logistics center in the Netherlands and the design of the packaging unifies product box and shipping box, resulting in a much smaller box sent to our customers. With this approach we reduced the overall shipping volume by 49%.
  • Introduce innovative, eco-friendly materials. We wanted to go back to basics, with packaging that would reflect our values, look cool as well as improve our environmental performance. That is why we decided to use Paperfoam as our packaging material, which is compostable and uses much less energy in production than regular cardboard or paper pulp. If you want to read more about this material, please refer to our blog on packaging (to be published end of April 2016).


Use phase energy consumption
As you probably know, the energy consumption of your smartphone depends heavily on the way you use it. The piece of hardware that uses the most energy is the back-lit LED screen. Apps also account for a significant amount of energy use, and some are more efficient than others. The software running on the Fairphone 2 continuously works to optimize energy use.
What’s most interesting to Fairphone owners is how long your battery will last. For the Fairphone 2, this is how long a single battery charge will last, measured based on various activities:

  • Standby (idle): up to 240 hours
  • Calling on LTE (4G) (screen off): 16 hours
  • Video streaming on LTE (4G): up to 4 hours


Product longevity and availability of spare parts
In order to keep products working for as long as possible, it is necessary to put the right support ecosystem in place. For the Fairphone 1 that means continuous software support (more news to come soon), availability of spare parts and publishing repair documentation. For the Fairphone 2 we designed a very unique modular architecture that allows customers and repair shops to repair the phone in a matter of seconds. By reducing the time and costs associated with repair, we are increasing the repair rates and improving the overall longevity of the device.

In our warranty, we have committed to at least two years availability of spare parts from the moment the device is sold, but we are striving to offer spare parts for up to five years.


Recycled materials and recyclability of polymers

Not all of the plastic parts in your Fairphone 2 are marked to identify the type of plastic used. This is something we will improve in further production cycles. But we want to give you a rundown of plastics we are using.

  • The opaque back covers, the plastic used for the modules and the plastic used on the back of the screen it all contains 50% post-consumer recycled polycarbonate, which was the best option available.
  • The transparent / translucent back-covers are regular polycarbonate (sigh!), because there was no existing transparent plastic available that would meet the mechanical requirements.
  • The frame/lip of the back covers is made of a thermo polyurethane.
  • The main chassis of the core module is made of polyamide.


Some substances of concern

First, we want to shed some light on the fact that there are (many) hazardous substances used in the production of a product, some of them irreplaceable. In the EU there are several laws that ban the existence of toxic substances in the final goods (like the RoHS), but do not ban the use of these substances in the production processes. This is understandable as the problem is not the chemicals themselves but the (possible) lack of adequate worker training or protective equipment when handling them.
When using hazardous substances, producers should apply best practices. This includes performing risk assessments for the health and safety of workers and the environment: that is, gathering information about the hazardous substances from accredited sources like supplier safety data sheets, ranking their risk, and taking measures to provide protective equipment and proper environments (where total elimination is not possible). In addition to this research, it is necessary to have adequate management plans in place in case of accidents and proof of adequate regular staff training.

This is probably one of the trickiest topics we deal with here at Fairphone, and it deserves a blogpost by itself. We are approaching this from a variety of angles. We have a standard operating procedure for due diligence which complies with the European Law on restricted substances. For the production of the Fairphone 1 and 2, we have consulted partners and reviewed documentation, materials and practices used in the phone’s assembly. Also we are collecting as many full material declarations as possible from the companies that deliver components that are used in our product. The hundreds of components used in Fairphone 2 are produced by companies all over the world, and sometimes individual components contain over one hundred substances (for example, our screen contains over 200 substances).

In these declarations you can find raw metals like copper, gold and tantalum, but also complex chemical compounds. Suppliers need to ensure that their products comply with stringent European laws, but we are striving to achieve full transparency with them so that we can also do our own due diligence to make sure things are done properly. This increased transparency allows us not only to protect the consumer and the environment, but also to increase our knowledge on how the components used in our products are made to identify opportunities for improvement and choosing better materials. Some important facts are:

  • We have been collecting test reports and declarations from our 300+ components, ensuring that the levels of hazardous chemicals such as lead, cadmium, chromium VI, PBDEs and PBBs do not surpass the thresholds set in the ROHS regulation (1000 ppm, except for cadmium, 100 ppm). Regarding REACh legislation, Fairphone is monitoring periodically the potential presence of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) above 1000 ppm, by being in contact with the main manufacturing partners and suppliers.
  • Moreover, we want to gain as much transparency as possible also on substances that do not fall under any specific law. As of May 2016, we have compiled full material declarations for 70% of the components present in the phone.

In addition, we would like to mention some important facts on especially interesting substances, for which we have requested further information.

  • Mercury in the lighting sources

No mercury has been found in the material composition declaration of the display.

  • Hazardous substances

There are (many) hazardous substances used in the production of a product, some of them irreplaceable. We did our best to list them all in this other support article.

 

As said in the introduction of this article, we keep on working in different fronts and we will keep updating with the questions we get form different stakeholders until we have a established reporting.

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