04 Sep 2023

Fairphone presents its "theory of change" at IFA 2023

In an exclusive interview with IFA International, Chief Impact Officer Monique Lempers explains the three pillars that constitute Fairphone's approach to changing the impact of smartphones
Dutch electronics manufacturer and social enterprise Fairphone aims to reduce its environmental footprint and improve the social impact of its devices by designing long-lasting easy to repair smartphones. Chief Impact Officer Monique Lempers speaks to us about Fairphone's latest efforts in sustainability and how other companies can make an impact. She also summarises the highlights of her fireside chat on circular economy, taking place at 12:30 p.m. today at the Sustainability Forum in Hall 2.2.

Can you tell us what are some of the ways Fairphone has integrated sustainability into its business plan?
We take a holistic approach to sustainability, meaning a positive impact on both people and planet. Our “theory of change” consists of three activities: raising awareness, setting the example, and creating followers. With that and by convening key actors, we motivate the industry to make caring for people and the planet a standard part of doing business.
For the rest of the industry, it's time to move away from wanting to convince consumers that the next big thing is always just around the corner. Our business model shows that you can stimulate demand for fairer electronics by increasing consumer awareness, and sustainable supply by improving social and environmental performance, while supporting consumers in changing their behaviour to more sustainable habits like longevity and repairability.

 Our “theory of change” consists of three activities: raising awareness, setting the example, and creating followers.

How can other companies support sustainability?
Manufacturers should provide repair and maintenance information to everyone in an easily-accessible manner and free of charge. Ordering spare parts should be as easy as buying a new product, to prevent unnecessary complicated processes which could raise the barrier to repair spare parts. Their prices should be available from the very beginning and for several years, not just until the end of sales. Manufacturers should also ensure the availability of software support for at least five years.

What are you highlighting in your fireside chat "Circular economy – starting at design through to delivery, return and reuse" this afternoon at IFA 2023?
The fact that you can build a successful value proposition around circularity, and how Fairphone is proof of this. Fairphone's key mission is to inspire the industry to become more responsible. Bringing products to the market that are more circular - by focusing on longevity through repairable design and long software support - is what makes us different and why customers choose to pay a premium.

Recycling sounds good, but in reality it's still a bit of a fairy tale. Only a small percentage of a handful of materials can be recovered that way. The increasing global demand will outweigh the supply or recycled materials for decades to come. So our main focus should be on producing less and keeping existing devices and products in use for as long as possible. Since the livelihood of millions of people depends on the mining sector, we also need to focus on improving working conditions in these mines.

Consumer Choice

Sustainability is a growing priority for many consumers, something Monique Lempers confirms. "Consumers are increasingly starting to care more about the impact of their behaviour and the things they use," she says. Explaining how Fairphone offers a direct response to this concern, she adds: "The Fairphone is a phone for the conscious consumer - people who care about both the people and the planet, who want to know how their phone is made, while also being able to repair it themselves."

Yet Ms Lempers was quick to point out that the responsibility for reversing the negative impact of smartphones on the environment should be shared among consumers and the industry. "The responsibility cannot lie purely with the consumers. When we started, supply chain sustainability wasn’t a focus in the industry. By now, we’re seeing that the conversation has matured and Fairphone has inspired that. However, there is still a lot of work to do," she claims.

According to Ms Lempers, the move towards smartphones that last longer and can be repaired is inevitable. "Both the manufacturers and the consumers will have to champion repairability and longevity," she says. "Sooner or later, we will have no other choice. The rare resources that make up our electronics are rapidly depleting, so sustainable design, longevity, re-use, and recycling will become increasingly important."

 Hall 2.2 / Sustainability Village