Microsoft delivers promised study finding repairing devices reduces waste and climate emissions

Surface Laptop Se RepairThe Surface Laptop SE (2022) is very easy to repair with few tools.Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

Microsoft’s Surface devices are often rewarded for their advanced, clean, and minimalist designs, but these come at the expense of repairability. Instead of relying on visible screws, Microsoft often relies on glue and a hard-to-open chassis without destroying the device. A computer like Surface Pro 7 got a meager score of one (out of 10) for iFixit’s repairability – the same score shared by previous Surface Pros.

As a result, in October 2021, Microsoft was called by As You Sow, a shareholder representative, who filed a resolution demanding the company respond to the growing right to repair movement. Microsoft quickly remedied the matter, resulting in the complaint being withdrawn. In its response, Microsoft noted that it would take these immediate actions:

  • Complete a third-party study assessing the environmental and social impacts associated with increasing consumer access to repair and determine new mechanisms to increase access to repair, including for Surface devices and Xbox consoles;
  • Extend the availability of certain parts and repair documentation beyond Microsoft’s authorized service provider network; and
  • Initiate new mechanisms to enable and facilitate local repair options for consumers.

These last two were then addressed with a partnership with iFixit. Both companies have announced official repairability tools for recent Surface devices, including Surface Pro 7+/8/Pro X, Surface Laptop 3 and 4, Surface Laptop Go, Surface Laptop SE, and Surface Laptop Studio. The tools are available to independent repair technicians and offer consumers another inexpensive way to perform repairs on Microsoft products without too much hassle.

An assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and waste impacts resulting from improved repairability of Microsoft devices

Source: Oakdene Hollins

Today, Microsoft completed the first part of its October Promise – an independent study assessing the environmental and social impacts of increased consumer access to repairs.

the study was published by Oakdene Hollins and donated to Windows Central by Microsoft. The document is 11 pages long and very detailed on the evaluation and conclusions, which speak strongly in favor of the somewhat obvious environmental benefits of giving consumers the option of repairing PCs rather than throwing them away.

The main findings of the study can be found below:

The study found that, compared to an appliance replacement scenario, all forms of repair offer significant benefits in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and waste reduction. It also found that enabling repair through device design, spare parts offerings and localization of repair has significant potential to reduce carbon and waste impacts. Finally, he highlighted the role that transport logistics can play in contributing to the overall GHG emissions associated with repair services. To further reduce waste and GHG emissions, Microsoft is advised to take steps to expand repair locations and capabilities to more devices and promote mail-in repair services.

Some other key findings of the report of the Press release:

  • For the seven devices studied, the study showed that repairing the product instead of replacing the device can lead to a reduction of up to 92% in potential waste generation and GHG emissions;
  • More than 20% of the net sustainability benefits of repair are determined by the mode of transportation and logistics of delivering devices to repair facilities; and
  • Mail-in repair services offer the lowest GHG emissions, even over long distances, compared to other modes of transportation, such as consumers driving their own vehicles to repair facilities.

The study notes that sending postal devices to Authorized Service Providers (ASPs) has the lowest overall GHG impact. Yet Microsoft could do even more by expanding “ASP repair locations and capabilities to more devices and promoting mass mail-in repair services where possible.” The recommendation is stated because “Currently, ASP Repair is only available to Microsoft commercial customers, but this study supports the case for extending ASP Repair to all customers.”

The expansion of consumer ASPs is part of Microsoft’s strategy to improve repairability.

Unexpectedly, while it may seem preferable for consumers to take their devices to an authorized repair shop, the study notes that, even over short distances, “GHG emissions can increase rapidly”. But having closer ASPs where “mail-to” exists “provided an order of magnitude lower impact on GHG emissions, even over much greater transport distances and, therefore, should be encouraged.”

Surface Pro X Teardown

Source: iFixit

That’s good news, although one wonders if Microsoft didn’t. close all its official stores in 2020. But unlike Apple, Microsoft has never performed onsite repairs for Surfaces at these stores. Instead, he would simply exchange the product for a new one while sending the defective product for long-distance factory repair. Later, this device would be sold as refurbished or sometimes used in a warranty exchange. The environmental impact was probably significant, with such policies causing unnecessary waste.

Today’s report also follows the remarkable work of Apple 79 pound repair kit for hirewhich can be sent directly to consumers’ homes, although they are transported. The environmental impact of shipping 79 pounds of gear instead of shipping a 6-ounce iPhone seems hilarious and contradictory if durability is a concern.

Microsoft improves repairability with Surface

Starting in 2017, Microsoft began looking for ways to improve the repairability of its Surface devices, most of which were developed for years before hitting the market. One of the first devices was the Surface 3 Laptop, which allowed the keyboard to be removed to access internal components. Since then, Surface Pro X and Surface Pro 8 have offered easy access to the SSD compartment, while the new Surface Laptop Studio is more usable magnitudes than Surface Book 3.

Surface Pro X even beat Apple’s iPad in 2019 for repairability by getting 6 (out of 10) from iFixit, a substantial jump from 1 for Surface Pro 7. The news surprised even iFixit:

It looks like Microsoft has at least gotten a foot on the repairability bandwagon – between this Pro X and the Laptop 3, we can hardly believe all the repair-focused changes they’ve made!

In a conversation with Jason Brown, Director, NPI Design for Repair, and Jeremy L McClain, Director, Customer Success and Experience at Microsoft, I asked about the challenges Microsoft faced in balancing Surface ID (its appearance , its usability) with the need for the right to repair. After all, going from glued everything to relying on (hidden) screws is not trivial. The answer was simple: standardized tools. Microsoft can create a set of principles around design and leverage a simplified set of tools to create a cohesive experience around repairability. But devices must be designed from the ground up with these considerations in place without sacrificing innovation.

When it comes to repair, Microsoft tells me that displays are usually the top “failure mode,” followed by keyboards when it comes to laptops. Batteries rarely break, but in the long run they are often at the point of failure as they degrade over time. Being able to replace those batteries, especially after the warranty expires, is an area Microsoft is focusing on to keep surfaces from ending up in landfills. The same goes for screens, which can fail years later, even without early Q&A failure.

For Microsoft, the focus is on repairing and extending the life of devices.

Microsoft also noted that onsite repair, especially for schools, is key to controlling costs. This concept was crucial for something Surface SE Laptopwhich can be completely torn apart with just a few tools.

Of course, not all devices are created equal. Although Surface Laptop Studio is much easier to use than Surface Book 3, something like Surface Duo 2 is more complicated. Microsoft notes that when it comes to design, it still needs to strike a balance between security and design/innovation while trying to make it fixable. That said, Microsoft told me that the upcoming devices are all designed with repairability in mind, meaning there will be “no regression” between generations.

Overall, Microsoft is taking ambitious steps to make Surface (and Xbox) easier to repair than ever. While more progress is needed and only new Surfaces will benefit, at least your Surface Pro 8 now has a better chance of living a second life instead of being recycled somewhere. Whatever your opinion on the environment, we can all agree that easier repairs are a better consumer experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.