An update from Doug Phelps, president and executive director of The Public Interest Network
JAN. 31, 2022
Every day, Americans dispose of another 416,000 cellphones—a shameful addition to our mounting waste problem.
Some people just can’t resist the newest new thing. Others simply find it next to impossible to fix their phones when they break. And it’s no wonder: The companies that make phones have put up barriers to self-repair and independent repair.
That’s why Apple’s* recent about-face on the consumer’s Right to Repair is such welcome news.
Back in December 2017, at the height of the holiday shopping season, Apple users discovered that a software update was throttling phones’ processors if the phone detected an older battery. This scandal, remembered as “Batterygate,” helped launch PIRG’s involvement in the Right to Repair movement. Now, nearly four years later, Apple has reversed its longstanding policy and will now sell spare parts, provide repair instructions and make repair software tools available to customers.
Apple is one of the world’s biggest companies. Its announcement has energized activists and shown policymakers and regulators that repair access is and has always been “reasonable and doable,” in the words of PIRG’s Right to Repair Senior Campaign Director Nathan Proctor.
This step forward also validates the coordinated approach that PIRG and other groups in The Public Interest Network have taken to help advance the cause of repair.
Nathan and his team do the research to illustrate why Right to Repair is necessary; help elevate the issue in the media; weigh in on federal policy; support policy development and campaigns at the state and corporate levels; and coordinate closely with repair business leaders at Repair.org, the grassroots repair movement through iFixit, and other advocates for change. Thanks to these leaders, what began as a group of frustrated repair technicians and tinkerers now includes farmers, medical professionals, environmentalists and consumer advocates who work in coordination to win access to the parts and information we need to fix our stuff.
Our state directors build momentum by forging relationships with more local partners, from farmers to hospital associations, as well as decision-makers from both sides of the aisle. The Right to Repair bills we’ve helped shepherd along in 27 states have set the standard for repair reform.
Amid all this work, Green Century Capital Management,° The Public Interest Network’s affiliated environmentally and socially responsible mutual fund company, filed a shareholder resolution with Apple calling for it to account for its anti-competitive repair policies. In an accompanying statement, Green Century President Leslie Samuelrich warned that Apple “risks losing its reputation as a climate leader if it does not cease its anti-repair practices.”
Apple went to the SEC to challenge the resolution, and tellingly, on the same day Green Century was due to defend its position to the SEC, Apple announced its new policy.
All of our work, and that of our allies, played a role in convincing Apple to change course. Apple’s leaders had no choice but to respond to the new context: President Biden and the Federal Trade Commission were putting the pressure on, 27 states were considering Right to Repair legislation, and shareholders were growing restless.
We can’t rely on just one company, state or president to make lasting change. As e-waste piles up in landfills around the world and mounting carbon emissions destabilize our climate, we need more change from major manufacturers—and fast.
But when a company as big as Apple recognizes the winds are shifting, it’s a sign of real progress. And each incremental step toward a Right to Repair also helps elevate “reuse,” alongside “reduce” and “recycle,” in our waste conversation while putting more power in the hands of the consumer.
Congratulations again to Nathan and his team at PIRG, Green Century, and our many friends in the repair movement who have been working hard on this issue for years.