The Fairphone 4 is what smartphone sustainability really looks like

Fairphone 4
Fairphone 4 (Image credit: Fairphone)

The past few phone launches from almost every manufacturer spent a reasonable amount of time explaining how each company was working toward smartphone sustainability. We heard things like "X-% of our phones are made from recycled materials" and "you don't need a charger because you already have one" to show that these companies are getting serious about the environment. But it still felt like more could be done. These are giant corporations with seemingly unlimited resources, after all.

Meanwhile, another small phone maker from the Netherlands seems to place sustainability at the same level as profits. Fairphone has been making products with meaningful commitments toward sustainability and eco-friendliness with little fanfare. Though the company isn't selling phones in North America, it's time for the recognition it deserves.

The new Fairphone 4 is 100% electronic waste neutral. That doesn't mean it's built out of old phones or anything. Instead, for every phone the company sells, it responsibly recycles or rebuilds another unused phone. That's pretty important because of the materials found inside of our gadgets. Things like gold, cobalt, and zinc are all valuable and easily reclaimed for use again instead of mining more out of the ground. It also means that Fairphone is the only phone manufacturer that is TCO Certified, which guarantees computer products maintain certain ecological standards.

This is not to say that other companies like Samsung or Google aren't working toward a similar goal when it comes to making the best sustainable Android phone possible. Every phone maker knows that responsible recycling is good for its public image and bottom line as well as good for the planet. But the issue of scale rears its head, and we just don't have the commitment from Samsung or Apple to recycle 50 million phones each year — or from Google or Motorola to recycle a whole lot fewer.

The 5-year warranty is fair and easy to understand.

Another area where Fairphone comes through is the user warranty. If you do nothing when you get a new Fairphone, you have a damn great two-year warranty that covers almost everything except you breaking things because of your actions. If you bother to take five minutes and register online, that warranty period stretches to a full five years. Four years and 11 months from now, if your camera stops working, Fairphone will fix it. It just doesn't get any better.

Phones are built using expensive materials, and many of those are often sourced under shady conditions. The companies making them know this and know that using responsibly-sourced materials is essential. The problem is that this means working with other companies that build the actual components, which takes time and money. Fairphone doesn't seem to care about the difficulties.

Fairphone 4 Exploded

Source: Fairphone (Image credit: Source: Fairphone)

Every Fairphone 4 is built using ethically sourced gold, cobalt, tin, tungsten, copper, and neodymium, as well as 100% recycled plastic. This means the companies making the components are held to a higher standard, which benefits the entire industry — if Qualcomm contracts to use ethical materials, fewer people are working under horrible conditions or for little or no wages. Everyone deserves a living wage and safe conditions at work.

You definitely have the right to repair a Fairphone.

The one place where Fairphone can get smartphone users excited is when it comes to your right to repair and software support. The Fairphone 4 is designed to easily take apart and replace things like the cameras, speakers, the USB C port, and even the display.

Using the included screwdriver, you can remove eight screws and swap the display. This might not be something everyone is comfortable doing, but as someone who loves to tear things apart, I can tell you there isn't a way to do it easier. If you want to replace a part because you broke it and it's not covered under warranty, you just buy one and swap it out. Except for the battery, because it is removable just like the battery in every Android phone used to be — pop open the back and swap it out with a freshly charged one.

Fairphone 4

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

On the software side of things, Fairphone promises guaranteed support until the end of 2025 because that's what Qualcomm guarantees. But the company also plans to try and support the phone until the end of 2027. That means Android 12, Android 13, Android 14, and Android 15! There's reason to believe they will be able to pull it off without Qualcomm's support because the previous model did receive six years of Android updates.

Behemoths like Samsung do a great job when it comes to renewable energy and large-scale recycling.

I love seeing what other companies are doing when it comes to the health of our planet. Samsung, for example, is 100% Energy Star compliant when it comes to phones, tablets, laptops, washing machines, and dishwashers. It also is the largest single recycler in the United States, recycling over 100 million pounds of e-waste every year. To top it off, the company uses 100% renewable power for all of its U.S. operations.

Amazon is also doing great when it comes to the big things. For example, the company is studying what environmental impact each of its devices may have and has committed to lowering carbon emissions and using renewable power. Amazon even designed its own Climate Pledge Friendly certification to help you find products that are better for the environment.

It's extremely difficult for a company to make these decisions, and every company should be applauded for making them. But there is plenty of room for smaller, but equally meaningful changes in how our devices are made and supported, and one only needs to look toward the small Dutch company Fairphone to see them.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.