[Green(er) Technologies]: Innovative SMEs lead the fight against the throwaway economy

image credit: shiftphones.com 2020 source: https://www.shiftphones.com/das-neue-shift13mi/

How a German family business is promoting the shift towards a more circular economy—and why it matters for Europe

In a recent position paper, DIGITAL SME outlines a path towards a sustainable digitalisation that builds on digital sovereignty as well as the impact of ICT on the environment—both good and bad.

One pillar of this sustainable digitalisation campaign are green(er) technologies and circular economy. The premise is that ICT, if done right, can decisively contribute to a more sustainable economy. Digital has the potential to save resources, expedite research and analysis of climate change, and replace polluting technologies. But Europe has to support green business models through smart policy to realise this potential.

Shift, a small family business placed in the heart of Germany, shows how ICT can be sustainable by design. Circular economy models are integrated into its products from the start. Through its innovative business activities, Shift is representing a path towards the achievement of Europe’s green and digital “twin” transitions.

Shiftphones as a solution to electronics waste

The Circular Economy Action Plan mentions that “electrical and electronic equipment continues to be one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the EU, with current annual growth rates of 2%. It is estimated that less than 40% of electronic waste is recycled in the EU20”. (p. 10)

These problems are related to difficulties consumers face when wanting to repair smartphones and other electronic devices. When repairing devices via independent repair shops, customers often risk to lose warranty. In addition, outdated parts cannot be replaced or upgraded to new technical standards. However, as stated in the Circular Economy Action Plan, “two in three Europeans would like to keep using their current digital devices for longer, provided performance is not significantly affected” (ibid.).

The impossibility of repairing ICT devices has negative consequences for the environment and prevents these technologies from becoming green and circular. In contrast, Shift’s modular smart phone, the Shiftphone, allows users to replace spare parts of the device themselves (Shift provide videos with instructions to that end).

Avoiding planned obsolescence

Another practice that is harmful both to the environment and to consumers is planned obsolescence, i.e. designing or producing products with an artificially limited useful life. Several tech giants have faced rulings against this practice (see Apple and Samsung cases – ICA 25 September 2018, PS 11009-PS 11039). Planned obsolescence generates electronics waste and increases costs for the consumer, who has to buy new devices when the old ones should still be working.

Shift addresses premature obsolescence with its self-claimed “most modular smartphone in the world”, which allows not only the replacement of spare parts, but also the upgrade of the smart phone’s software. In so doing, the waste of resources, planned obsolescence, and difficulties in repairing the device are effectively addressed from the start. Could Shift’s business serve as a best practice for hardware-producing SMEs?

A holistic approach to pursue sustainable digital transformation

DIGITAL SME’s position paper on sustainable digitalisation underlines the need for a holistic approach to regulation. It is important that new digital environments remain open to newcomers. In a sustainable and innovative digital economy, businesses like Shift need access to data to perform repairs and develop new services. A holistic outlook on regulation can help to prevent these markets from being closed-off to competition, circular economy models, and innovation.

DIGITAL SME launched the campaign on sustainable digital transformation to support and enable Europe’s twin transitions to a green and digital economy by building on its key strength: innovative SMEs and their business ecosystems. Shift is a good example of an innovative SME leading the way towards sustainable digitalisation.

If you are interested in learning more on our proposals for a sustainable digitalisation, please visit our campaign page here.

This article was written for our #SustainableDigitalisation campaign. It is not a commercial initiative. As part of a new series about Green(er) Technologies, we will post jointly developed articles like this one to raise awareness about the importance of ICT in Europe’s transition to a more circular economy.

If you would like to propose a topic for another article about Sustainable Digitalisation, contact us at office@digitalsme.eu