The real cost of an iPhone

by: Mirjam Visser, 2012-04-05 07:03:32 UTC
Sustainability Aspects: The unsustainability of an iPhone's supply chain. Unhuman working conditions for the people producing them, the short live and waste

The Story

repetitive work at Foxconn

Jen Rhee sent me an interesting infographic this week on the supply chain sustainability cost of an iPhone. It is applicable for nearly all products that are replaced within a 1-2 years and of which the production is outsourced to third parties in Asia or other far places.

Every suicide is one too many but with over 1 million employees 17 in a year is at 10% of the Chinese average as one of the commentators in the Wired blog correctly mentioned. Working conditions is something the western brands should take on more than they do now; it is not ok to press people over the brim with excessive overwork or expose them or the environment to hazardous waste.

The lessons we, designers and consumers, should take from this are in how can we lower the cost?

This morning I read in the Financial Time that the UK imports yearly 30m sheets of plywood a year and that most of them end up in the landfill within 12 months! It is similar as with the iPhone. We too easily replace instead of re-use the stuff we have. I like the idea of a second life for the iPhone, plywood sheet, …..

So what can we do? And please help me lengthen the list …

On the consumer side:

  • Be aware of what you buy; do you really need or want this?
  • Skip a new release if the differences are small
  • Sell your replaced stuff
  • Recycle

As designers/producers

  • Make products that are “lovable”, beautiful, fun so people bond with them till they are worn out and won’t replace them easily
  • Re-use parts by closing the recycling loop, think Xerox copiers
  • Re-use material by closing the recycling loop, think Interface flooring
  • Use recycled material
  • Sell upgrade software instead of new hardware to lengthen the life of a model
  • Make product easier to repair, maintain by the user/consumer to lengthen the life of a product
  • hardware refurbishment to update the looks
  • If products by nature are used once make them from easy recyclable materials or biodegradable material or even better find a replacement product you can re-use like a waterbottle
  • ……
  • Product: consumer electronics
    Designer: na
    Manufacturer: na
    Category: info


    repetitive work at Foxconn
    repetitive work at Foxconn
    Photo by Wired

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