On Friday, Microsoft released the results of an independent studyhe charged with exploring the environmental benefits of making his devices easier to repair. Its findings confirm what right-to-repair advocates have been saying for years: repairing devices instead of replacing them reduces both the waste and emissions associated with manufacturing new devices.
Based on these findings, Microsoft will take steps to enable greater repairability of its devices by the end of the year, such as stipulated in an agreement the tech company reached out to investor advocacy nonprofit As You Sow last fall.
The publication of Microsoft’s study only arrived two days after Apple launched “self-service repair” a first-of-its-kind program that allows owners of recent iPhone models to order genuine Apple parts and tools to perform basic smartphone repairs, such as screen and battery replacement, at home. Other programs of this type are to come: end of March and beginning of April, Samsung and Google announced plans to sell genuine parts for smartphone repair through partnerships with the repair guide site I fix it. Both of these programs appear to be on track to launch in the coming months.
From a consumer perspective, these actions are small steps toward a world in which tech titans actively facilitate repairs to their products rather than oppose them. Companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google have not only historically engineered products that are difficult to repairbut also have a well-documented history of fighting bills that would support consumers’ right to repair them. For these companies, the audits and remediation programs represent a major policy shift that would not have happened without a mixture of public and shareholder pressure, as well as the specter of impending laws and regulations aimed at curbing Big Tech’s anti-repair practices.
Companies are also changing their minds about repair as restricting it increasingly conflicts with their climate and sustainability goals, which shareholders were keen to point out.
Microsoft’s new repair study claims independent repair has tangible environmental benefits.
Led by technical consultancy Oakdene Hollins, the study examined how making repairs easier through design changes and increased repair options would affect waste and carbon emissions associated with Microsoft Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface devices. LaptopStudio. According to a summary published today by Microsoft, repairing Microsoft products instead of replacing them can reduce the waste and carbon emissions associated with manufacturing new devices by up to 92%.
The study found greater greenhouse gas emission reductions when consumers had access to local repair options, highlighting the importance of supporting independent repair businesses and enabling knowledgeable repairers to repair their home appliances.
Tech companies aren’t waking up to the environmental benefits of repair on their own. Kelly McBee, attorney for As As You Sow investors already told Grist, when she first contacted Microsoft about its restrictive repair policies last spring, the company told her it saw no connection between repairability and durability. When she met with Microsoft earlier this month to review the results of her study – which was born out of a shareholders’ agreement between As You Sow and Microsoft in October — Microsoft’s attitude had changed.
“They actually thanked us for bringing this to their attention,” McBee told Grist. “Which was a really different vibe to the first meeting – and they acknowledged that as well.”
McBee is optimistic that Microsoft will follow through on the second part of its shareholder commitment, to act on the results of its study by the end of 2022. She noted that the company has already taken some steps to enable independent redress. , including broadcast a video showing how to disassemble sound Surface SE Laptop in January, and launch of a program in December which allows independent repair professionals to purchase Microsoft service tools from iFixit.
“By the end of 2022, we will have expanded the options in place for customers to have their devices repaired,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Grist in an emailed statement. “Independent repair is one element of this portfolio of repair options and by the end of 2022 we will undertake a limited pilot program to enable the repair of certain devices by qualified independent repair shops.”
As Microsoft negotiated a shareholders’ agreement with As You Sow last fall, Apple faced a similar shareholder resolution introduced by the mutual fund company Green Century — one that asked the iPhone maker to “reverse” its anti-repair practices to strengthen its climate commitments. While Apple initially tried to block the resolution, it instead announced its intention to launch the self-service repair program. just in time to stop the resolution moving forward with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal investor protection agency.
Apple has been tight-lipped about self-service repair since its announcement last fall, and before this week, Apple fans were start to wonder if the company had forgotten it. Now that it’s live, the repair community will take a close look at the program. Already, iFixit has raised concerns about how Apple parts are associated with individual devices based on their serial number – something that could allow Apple to restrict the use of those same parts to repair other phones in the future. Apple did not respond to Grist’s request for comment on this concern.
The self-service repair program also has a limited scope, offering spare parts, repair tools and manuals only for Apple’s iPhone 12 and 13 ranges as well as the third-generation iPhone SE – and only for US customers. But Apple says it will expand the program to other countries, as well as adding manuals and tools to repair Mac M1 computers, later this year.
Despite the limitations of Apple’s program, its existence is symbolically a big deal. “For better or for worse, Apple has enormous influence over the behavior of competitors,” Nathan Proctor, who leads the right to repair campaign at the US public research interest group, told Grist. non-profit. Apple’s effective capitulation to the Right to Repair movement last year by agreeing to launch a self-repair store most likely “raised the pressure on other companies,” Proctor said.
This includes Google and Samsung, both of which have ongoing self-repair programs. The Samsung program, which the company says is expected to launch this summer, will allow owners of a Samsung Galaxy S20 or S21 smartphone or Galaxy Tab S7+ tablet to purchase genuine display sets (screens with a glued battery), a rear glass and charging ports via iFixit. The Google program, which will make screens, batteries and other parts needed to repair Pixel smartphones available through iFixit, is also on track for the summer, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens told Grist. The companies, Wiens says, have been enthusiastic partners in these programs, offering feedback on iFixit’s latest Samsung and Google repair guides in addition to developing the spares pipeline.
Annalisa Tarizzo, attorney for Green Century shareholders, whose company also filed a proposal with Google asking the company to increase repair accesstold Grist that Google had agreed to meet with shareholders twice over the next year to “discuss more details” about the program, something she sees as a “good faith effort” to give it a go. after.
All of these programs – if and when they happen – are small steps toward a world in which consumers can repair and maintain their devices indefinitely rather than being forced to upgrade them every few years. Proponents say each of these companies could do more to create such a future. For example, they could make parts and repair documentation available for more of their products: Tarizzo said she’d like to see Google expand its new iFixit partnership to include Nest thermostats. Tech companies could also come out openly in favor of the right to repair in congressional hearings and when submitting public comments to agencies, and distance themselves from anti-repair lobbying efforts.
Even industry leaders like Dell, which designs some of the most repairable devices in addition to publishing regularly repair manuals for, is still a member trade groups that lobby against pro-repair legislation, such as TechNet and the Consumer Technology Association. If companies that are at the forefront of repairability within their own product lines took a more public stance calling on their own trade groups or industry peers to take backward stances on repair, Proctor told Grist, this could be a game-changer for the industry.
“If we really want to make a huge change in the sustainability of our electronics, we need leadership,” Proctor said. “We need companies that push the boundaries of what can be done.”