Discarded electronics have become an environmental plague as consumer technologies of all types have become more prolific and affordable to the masses. Many producers of this type of merchandise have intentionally created products that have a very finite lifespan limited by an inability to update technology or due to utilizing materials and assembly schemes that lack long-term durability. Too many consumer electronics products were designed without foresight, a long term strategy, or a holistic design philosophy. In addition, many electronics are incredibly difficult and expensive to repair, thus inadvertently encouraging users to discard them and buy new ones when they inevitably fail or become obsolete.

Discarded electronics have become an environmental plague as consumer technologies of all types have become more prolific and affordable to the masses. Many producers of this type of merchandise have intentionally created products that have a very finite lifespan limited by an inability to update technology or due to utilizing materials and assembly schemes that lack long-term durability. Too many consumer electronics products were designed without foresight, a long term strategy, or a holistic design philosophy. In addition, many electronics are incredibly difficult and expensive to repair, thus inadvertently encouraging users to discard them and buy new ones when they inevitably fail or become obsolete.

It is for these reasons mentioned above that France is leading the world in promoting greater sustainability in the electronics industry with their newly required repairability index scores. The repairability index score is a rating based on a set of criteria that manufacturers of devices such as smartphones, laptops, televisions, and washing now have to clearly display to consumers to indicate how simple they are to repair.

The criteria are as follows:

  • ability to access documents detailing technical specifications that will aid in repair
  • ability to access spare parts
  • ease of disassembly
  • the price point of spare parts used for repairs
  • a catch-all category for device-specific repair issues

Once the manufacturers have rated their devices, the score is placed on the outer packaging to let potential buyers know on a scale of 1-10 how repairable their product is. The closer the score is to 10, the easier a device should be to repair instead of discard.

As this repairability index is adopted by electronics manufacturers, there are plans to expand the scope of this type of scoring system to become a durability index that not only reports repairability but also how well made and durable an electronics item is. France intends to convert to this system by 2024. 

While this repairability index is a great step in reducing the harmful effects of consumer electronic device waste, it does have some limitations, including an extra score point simply for giving consumers access to software update information that has nothing to do with actual device repairability. 

Another downfall is that manufacturers are required to self-report their scores, which may lead to abuses of the system through lack of transparency. However, this issue of greenwashing may be somewhat kept to a minimum due to the outcomes of manufacturer and brand competition, leading push back against industry competitors who may not be forthright in their scoring.

All in all, environmentalists and those advocating for repairability in the electronic device industry are closely monitoring the implementation of France’s repairability index scoring system. There is hope that like systems will be adopted in the European Union and beyond in order to encourage manufacturers to create devices that are easier to repair and longer lasting so that the impact of this type of waste is greatly reduced. 

Though it may take some time for those who produce these devices to make the modifications France’s repairability index encourages, as it occurs industry-wide, hopefully, it will become the new standard in this field globally.

Photo by Blaz Erzetic on Unsplash

The long term vision we hold for the Designed For Life movement is to someday provide a similar “seal of approval” for brands willing to submit their products to the scrutiny of the six-tenet DFL framework. Of course, repairability is just one aspect of the “maintainable” tenet within the overall framework by which products will be ranked. These rankings, which consider many heretofore ignored aspects of a product and its design, will someday allow consumers to seek out and choose products that live up to (in part or in full) Designed For Life standards and make more informed decisions. Having reviewed most of the current “green” product rankings or disclosure matrices, like the one discussed in this article, as well as other well known certifications, like Cradle to Cradle, we believe that the DFL framework will someday come to be known as the highest, most user friendly, and most fulsome standard by which a product or product platform can be designed to and judged by. We hope this outcome will be very useful to consumers and designers of products alike….not to mention the earth and our environment. 

Jessie Schwartz

About Jessie Schwartz

Jessie Schwartz-Kwasnik joined the Product Design team at Lovesac in 2017. Before that she spent six years in management consulting working on PLM implementations including new product launch processes.  Her passion for sustainable design started from reading the Lorax as a child and continued through her education at Dartmouth College. She was excited to put her beliefs into reality while working at Lovesac and to try to live up to the DFL principals.

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