Microsoft right to repair move starts the sustainability race

- October 13, 2021

In promising news for the fight against electronic waste, shareholders have pressured Microsoft into expanding its efforts on repairability. The company has agreed to assess the “environmental and social benefits” of user device repair and take action by the end of 2022.

It's the first of the tech giants to do so, marking a huge step forward for the sustainability of the ICT industry. While early days, this is significant news and has broad industry ramifications, as other manufacturers are likely to follow in the race to be greener and cleaner than the others.

There are two important things to note about this news:

First, shareholder advocacy is on the rise and green investing is now driving business.

Right to repair legislation has been slow to take hold globally, despite important gains in the EU last year. Shareholder pressure is a much faster and less cumbersome route to action, albeit tackling just one company at a time rather than striking at wholesale change.

Businesses worldwide can expect increasing pressure from investors and customers to green their operations and adopt sustainable solutions, and IT is now coming firmly into the spotlight.
Second, the move by Microsoft opens the door for a big gear change in the number of devices being refurbished, by pushing the concept into the mainstream.

One of the biggest challenges with device repair is the lack of standardised parts. Manufacturers have come under fire for restricting access to parts by putting in place binding contractual clauses with their suppliers or recycling and dumping spare parts instead of releasing them to the market.

This obstructive behaviour is despite consumers using buying power to demonstrate their support for repairability. A prime example is the French repair index, introduced last year to encourage manufacturers to display clear information about the repairability of their products.

According to reports, a Samsung survey revealed 86% of French citizens agree that the index impacts their purchasing behaviour and 80% said they would give up their favourite brand for a more repairable product.

With such strong support in the market, it’s only a matter of time before the public becomes more vocal about repair and reuse as the preferred end-of-life treatment, with recycling becoming a last resort.

Our device refurbishing centres process more half a million enterprise IT devices each year, demonstrating the scale of what can be achieved when mindsets start to shift. If manufacturers began to make devices with parts that could be easily replaced, the number of units that could be repaired would increase exponentially.

And when customers demand change, big business tends to follow suit. Manufacturers now have a huge opportunity to promote the principles of the circular economy and reduce electronic waste by designing devices that have multiple lifespans and reducing the need to build new machines all time. They can do so in the knowledge that consumers will support them.

Looking ahead, the Microsoft move will be one to watch closely. The company has committed to use the study to inform future design, but it remains to be seen how radical the changes it introduces will be.

There is no doubt that it has sounded the starting gun for the tech giants and the race may soon be on to see who can produce the sustainable and reusable kit. Here's hoping!

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