Tech

Microsoft moves to make device fixes (and our lives) easier

Urged by shareholders and advocates, Microsoft has agreed to move toward allowing individual repairs of consumer devices rather than requiring manufacturer oversight. It’s a step in a positive direction for the Right to Repair movement — an environmental and social campaign urging companies to allow individuals full control over their devices, without penalty, and reduce the environmental impact of electronics.

Microsoft is the first U.S. manufacturer to take such a step, which for now just includes a study into how the accessibility of repair will affect the company’s environmental impact. A summary of the findings will be published in May 2022. But the company has also agreed to actually act on the conclusions made in the study, whatever those may be.

Broadly, the Right to Repair movement has four goals: making information (like software updates and schematics) available to all, providing parts and tools to repair and update devices, allowing consumers to unlock their devices from manufacturer restrictions, and building repair options directly into the devices themselves. Microsoft’s agreement addresses the first two of these.

The company’s decision is in direct response to a shareholder’s resolution filed in June, which urged Microsoft to analyze the environmental and social impact of consumer repair on its devices. The resolution was brought forward by As You Sow, a nonprofit shareholder advocacy group that supports socially responsible investing and environmental sustainability. In the resolution, the nonprofit said the tech company had a responsibility to take “genuine action on sustainability” and reduce its electronic waste.

“Microsoft positions itself as a leader on climate and the environment, yet facilitates premature landfilling of its devices by restricting consumer access to device reparability,” Kelly McBee, waste program coordinator at As You Sow, wrote in the filed resolution.

Months later, it seems Microsoft’s conceded to the nonprofit’s advocacy.

In July, President Biden signed an executive order that included provisions supporting the movement, CNN reported. The order directs the Federal Trade Commission to govern manufacturers and their restrictions on individual device repair shops and at-home repairs. Microsoft’s agreement comes before the FTC has issued such rules.

These kinds of federal provisions, allowing consumers to extend the life of devices and prevent excess electronic waste, may have a significant environmental impact. Most of a device’s carbon emissions are generated during manufacturing, and accelerated when consumers have to replace entire devices rather than repair the ones they currently own. According to the United Nation’s 2020 Global E-Waste Monitor, only 17.4% of the world’s E-waste was recycled in 2019 — the amount of waste is expected to reach 74 million metric tons by 2030.

This has a human impact, as well. A recent report by the World Health Organization also shows that global E-Waste has a significant impact on women and children working in informal waste sectors, who are exposed to environmental hazards and unfair labor practices.

While Microsoft hasn’t made any changes yet, the company’s agreement is a good faith move for Right to Repair advocates.

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