The Greenest Smartphone Yet Comes From Swedish Designers

    Smartphones, for all their power, are rare-earth-metal consuming beasts, leaving huge scars across the planet from mining. That’s something Fairphone is trying to change through its latest ethical models, with Swedish design agency Above working to deliver the “fairest battery yet.”

    Major smartphone brands like Apple and Samsung are happy to highlight their recycling of materials and increasingly eco-friendly supply chains. But nothing changes the fact that many components in smartphones use elements dug out of the ground from huge-scale mines. All at a massive environmental cost.

    Smartphone batteries include rare-earth elements like nickel, lithium, and cobalt. While screens and semiconductors make use of indium and neodymium. Whatever the element, miners must extract tonnes of rock to uncover small amounts of the key material.

    Fairphone’s smarter, greener, phone

    Dutch firm Fairphone aims to minimize the environmental impact of smartphones, with the new Fairphone 5, the brand’s most eco-friendly model yet. It is a device that will appeal to those fed up with gadgets that are expensive to repair, or literally cost the Earth.

    Available to pre-order from €699, and shipping mid-September, Swedish agency Above became involved to ensure the Fairphone 5 uses 70% fair focus or recycled materials as part of the design brief.

    Fairphone 5
    The new Fairphone 5 offers a green, repairable alternative to Apple and Samsung devices.

    Additional benefits of the Fairphone 5 include a 5-year warranty, plus 8 years of software updates to encourage longer use and brand loyalty. Fairphones are also easy to repair, with modular components. Unlike most smartphones that require handing them over to repair teams with specialist tools just to get the devices open. The workers who make Fairphones are also paid a fair living wage.

    While the Fairphone 5 might be good for the planet, it doesn’t mean the designers have skimped on features. Fairphone 5 is available in matte black, sky blue, or a transparent edition, and specifications include:

    • 5G and WiFi 6 connectivity
    • 6.46-inch 90Hz OLED display
    • Octa-core Qualcomm QCM6490 6-nanometre processor
    • 256GB Storage (expandable), 8GB RAM
    • Dual 50-megapixel main cameras with wide and ultrawide modes
    • 50-megapixel selfie camera
    • 4,200 mAh battery that charges to 50% in 30 minutes

    Saving the Planet from Above

    Supporting Fairphone in its green efforts, Above is a Swedish agency, focused on driving innovation and positive change through industrial design and smarter use of technology. Above was acquired by Arise Consulting in 2021, an acquisition-hungry Scandinavian design collective that generated over 700 MSEK in net revenues (FY 2021 forecast).

    Based in Stockholm and Malmo, with US and Chinese offices, Above works with the likes of Scania for sustainable urban transport, Unikia, Jabra, and other brands to deliver smarter, more useable technology and more sustainable electronics.

    Easy to repair, Fairphone will last longer than many smartphones.

    Above works with Fairphone as an innovation partner, creating more repairable and future-proof designs. On the 2021 Fairphone 4, Above worked on concept and product design, mechanical concept and design integration, integration of hardware, and working closely with manufacturing suppliers.

    For the Fairphone 5, Above focused on the battery. Fairphone uses a cobalt credit scheme to ensure all the cobalt used is matched by cobalt produced under improved working conditions at artisanal and small-scale mines.

    The battery integrates fair lithium and contains 100% Fairtrade gold in its supply chain, 100% recycled tin solder paste, 80% recycled steel and nickel alloy, and 75% recycled plastics. And if the battery does start to lose performance or fail after several years, the user can easily replace it.

    Geoff Spick
    Geoff Spick
    I started writing about consumer technology, video games, and teaching people how to use Windows and the Internet back in the 90s, before switching to the world of B2B content. I have written for research for Gartner, marketing content for Infor and a broad range of startups, SMBs, and enterprises. All with a focus on delivering value and useful information to the right audience, from leaders to operators and end users, and adding some humanity in a world of increasingly robotic content.

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