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Sustainable design



Hi, OK. First of all, a disclaimer. I don't have a background in sustainability and I'm not a designer, so on some level you may be wondering what I'm doing here. I guess I'm more of an activist and someone who's lived in the world and has pretty concerns about the way things work and I want to talk a little bit about sustainability and just one key message, which is that the most sustainable device is one that's device and software for that device are both ones that help increase the life-cycles of these devices.

But just to tell you a little bit about my organisation called The Restart Project. We basically started, a friend of mine and I, started looking at this issue of sustainability and gadgets about two years ago. Both of us had been working in what is called International Development and we'd been working with organisations in Africa and Asia and Latin America, to use technology for their purposes, so with farmer groups and I was working with urban squatters in Sao Paulo, and just really impressed with the way people would keep things for a long time, use things for their every single purpose and more. And we'd come back and we would see really well-meaning people who were concerned about their carrier bags and cycling and energy, but we'd see the same people upgrading and changing device every nine months or twelve months, so what we did is we started just hosting community events where people could come and get some help to repair their own things.

And as Olivier mentioned, there's already kind of in a sense an ecosystem. There's materials available online for how to repair things. Spare parts are sometimes hard to get, but you can get them, but what we thought what the real barrier was, is just kind of like a helping hand, is sometimes to have someone next to you to say, that ribbon cable is very delicate so take care with that. You don't really get that necessarily from a YouTube video, so we started meeting in community spaces, volunteers started coming and helping people essentially open their gadgets and repair them, so they could use them for longer. And it's been really successful, just kind of snowballed, a lot of people are interested.

There are people inspired and replicating this in other parts of the world, and really at the end of the day, we didn't want this to be only a green thing, or only a geek thing; we really wanted to bring the issue of how we're using technology to a much broader audience, and part of the reason is, and I'm just going to go and show you right here, we all often beat up on Apple for a number of reasons, but Apple does these environmental reports on their products, which are quite interesting, and somewhat they give a little bit of breakdown of that product life-cycle that Olivier showed on his slide. And they made a lot of noise, I guess they made a big announcement earlier this year about how their data centres are going to be almost a hundred per cent renewable in the US, and that's laudable, but when you look at it, you look at where emissions are actually happening with the device; this is pretty much true for almost any consumer electronics, they're all happening at the production stage, the manufacture and production stage.

So, this just…my message is very simple to you and we can maybe discuss in the panel, but when we're thinking about sustainability, it's not going to be a new shiny green technology that's necessarily going to get us out of this problem; it's true that this potentially could decrease, but we'll also get efficiency gains in the use phase, so in a sense I think this is always going to be the scenario, and we really have to think about how long we're using the things that we have, and software plays a role in this too. When software becomes frustrating and difficult, and we see this at our community events, people often give up on devices, so it's not merely a hardware issue; it's not merely making hardware more repairable, easier to open, less fiddly, less soldered and glued together; that's one issue. Software is also another issue. Software contributes to this perception of obsolescence. So I hope we can discuss this because I think it's massively important.

Another thing to say is, in terms of this, I would like to see more manufacturers doing this, and a more complete version of this. It's actually quite difficult to get life cycle assessments or analysis for almost any consumer electronics. I was trying to get some updated information about, for example, telling you how much…comparing a chip to the whole laptop, these kind of things; really difficult to get good information on this, but this is the scenario, broadly speaking.

And lastly, this is the message that we spread. And we definitely encourage people to buy a fair phone and to look for fair design, but the bottom line is, we should be using the things we have longer, and it's not because we're going to be Luddites and we're going to be hippies; it's just that we need to be more mindful. And if we are going to upgrade, we should really enjoy it and we should see that as in a sense a sacrifice, that we're going to have to make, but we should really make the most of what we have.

So that's my organisation, and I'd really like to hear from you in the panel and your thoughts about this, so thank you.