February 24, 2021
France has pioneered a new “repairability index” for all electronic devices sold in that country. The criteria for the final score include how easy it is to take the device apart, availability of spare parts and technical documentation. The index will be implemented, with fines for non-compliance, beginning next year. This move is part of France’s stated goal to fight planned obsolescence, as manufacturers intentionally create products that need to be replaced frequently. Fighting such obsolescence reduces waste and France’s effort may serve as a model for other countries.
Wired reports that the “global implications” of France’s repairability index is that other countries may follow suit, “help consumers make better choices, and hopefully incentivize companies to manufacture more repairable devices.”
“It’s a big step in the right direction,” said Restart Project co-founder Ugo Vallauri, who is also a member of Europe’s Right to Repair campaign. Devices have increasingly become difficult to repair due to “design choices and software locks that often require proprietary manufacturer tools to get past.” The French government estimated in 2020 that, “only 40 percent of broken electronic devices in the country were repaired,” which led to the anti-waste bill’s passage requiring the repairability index.
The index will initially cover smartphones, laptops, TVs, washing machines and lawnmowers, with the score of 10 indicating the most repairable device. In addition to the criteria listed above, manufacturers also grade the price of spare parts and “a wild-card category for repair issues specific to that class of products.” France plans to add more consumer products and, by 2024, the repair index will become a “durability index” that describes “overall robustness.”
According to Vallauri, the criteria weren’t agreed upon early enough to enforce implementation in early 2021. But some companies are now on board, including French spare parts business Spareka, which is “publishing repairability indices as it receives them from manufacturers,” including Asko, Samsung and OnePlus.
Vallauri pointed out the limitations of the index, since it was “developed through an intensive stakeholder process that involved input from manufacturers as well as consumer advocacy organizations,” which led to compromises. At the French advocacy organization Stop Planned Obsolescence, Adèle Chasson noted that, “laptop and smartphone makers can get a ‘free point’ by providing consumers with information about different types of software updates … information that may not have anything to do with how fixable the device is.”
The biggest loophole is that manufacturers will be self-reporting their scores and “it is unclear whether there will be rigorous governmental oversight to ensure the math is being done correctly.” “Certainly we have seen manufacturers abuse this kind of scoring system in the past,” said iFixit chief executive Kyle Wiens, whose company “helped advise the French government on the development of the index.” But, he added, “competition will help keep greenwashing in check.”
The European Parliament voted in November to develop “laws that mandate EU-wide repairability labeling,” although Vallauri predicted it’s “a few years away” from seeing “repairability scores appearing at every shop in every member country.” But, he added, France’s law “shows that it’s possible” and represents “a good learning opportunity for other countries that can now build on what the French lawmakers created.”