Big tech environmental commitments: where is repair?

We wrote this blog post hoping to raise the profile of repair and longevity of hardware in the scrutiny of environmental ambitions of big tech firms.

We’re in touch with Greenpeace in the UK, and trying to figure out what they are up to in the US on this.

We looked at Share Action’s work on big tech and the environment, and didn’t feel super convinced.

We think there is a place for another player to step up in this space, one focused entirely on technology, that will not work on the usual NGO campaign cycles. So we’re also checking in with Mozilla, who recently started on their "sustainability journey".

We’d love to hear your ideas about how to follow this up, or whether to follow this up!

Could be of particular interest to @Artur_Donaldson @Fidi @Dave @Panda

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Great article and good research, especially with the additions from the UK committee on repairability in tech.

One point I’d like to add from my admittedly short experience (so far) in environmental consultancies as a grad, is that the ISO standards for carbon footprinting are loosely defined, and highly subject to interpretation, and the data currently used as a standard in LCA (for instance trade of minerals, the material composition of key components) is shockingly outdated and siloed away because LCA practitioners are so concerned about IP of their clients (who also tend to fund the research, leading to obvious conflict of interest), and because platforms for sharing this data are underfunded, ill-harmonized and limited (unlike financial platforms).

But I agree having a clear picture of Big Tech’s environmental committments (and the environmental impact of their products) is not just badly needed if their claims are to have any credibility, but also a perfectly possible if they work together. What is crucial is that tech companies is not which standard or green label they stick on their product, but what data they use and that they cooperate with third parties. Supply chains, chip factory and technology are constantly change on two-year cycles (to maintain Moore’s “law”), but the data used for many of these ecodeclarations does not - it is updated only when funding becomes available from public institutions like the EU to fund the researchers who compile the data. To ensure there is cooperation in design and in auditing will of course require policy, and this is achievable just like the Ecolabel for energy efficiency, and the RoHs approval, which helped cut back on the use of toxic lead in PCBs.

Some key questions to enable scientific accuracy are:

  1. Do their environmental assessments were done by an independent auditor? (this is a question listed in the article)
  2. Did the auditors go out to a representative number of the suppliers in Shenzen, Taiwan or so on, to collect data?
  3. How much detail do they give in their methodology for the environmental assessment.

In all too many “Eco-declarations” there are just two pages of graphs and headline figures with no real explanation of how those numbers were calculated and what data they use. Sadly we are forced to use some of this data as LCA proactioners and activists in our own reporting (e.g. the Fixometer uses Ecodeclarations from Apple partly for calculating CO2 and many consultancies rely on self-reported data on supply chains for want of time).

There is a huge dearth of public data on the key features of supply chains in electronics, and the extraction of the materials crucial to the technology we use. Tech giants have the ability, and a duty to change this and change supply chains because they are key drivers of it (unlike activists and LCA practitioners, who can usually only advise). No one is asking them to give away their intellectual property, but to share data on, for instance, how much gold/cobalt/tantalum they use in their electronics.


Janet, Jonathan Cocker at Baker McKenzie in Canada is interested in the right to repair and business. He is seeking collaboration with others. Find him on Linkedin. Karen and Danny Mend It, Australia