Repair is essential. It cuts the material demand for new products and reduces the impact of computer chip shortages. It also keeps highly toxic waste out of landfills and saves consumers money.
At the same time, repair options are actively undermined by manufacturers. By refusing to provide access to parts, service information or proprietary repair tools to consumers and independent shops, technology companies threaten the rights of all consumers to repair their devices.
While much of the media attention around Right to Repair tends to focus on Apple and John Deere, many other manufacturers restrict repair and many lobby against pro-repair reforms. Microsoft is no exception: The company, which recently joined Apple as one of only two $2 trillion companies, is a prominent opponent to Right to Repair. However, the tech giant’s anti-repair stance is controversial, and has now pushed some shareholders to call for change.
As You Sow files resolution to press Microsoft on repair
Last week, shareholder advocacy organization As You Sow announced it has filed a pro-Right to Repair shareholder resolution with Microsoft for consideration in December.
The resolution calls for the company to analyze the “environmental and social benefits of making Company devices more easily repairable by consumers and independent repair shops.”
“Microsoft positions itself as a leader on climate and the environment, yet facilitates premature landfilling of its devices by restricting consumer access to device reparability,” said Kelly McBee, waste program coordinator at As You Sow in a press release. “To take genuine action on sustainability and ease pressure on extraction of limited resources including precious metals, the company must extend the useful life of its devices by facilitating widespread access to repair.”
With lofty environmental goals, Microsoft has made headlines over the past few years. Last August, the company committed to a zero waste goal by 2030. But these environmental goals often conflict with the company’s stance on Right to Repair. For example, just weeks after the company made this zero waste announcement, Microsoft debuted a new phone which iFixit found wasn’t “meant to be repaired, maybe not even by Microsoft,” and gave it a regrettable two out of 10 repairability score.
It’s time for Microsoft to get serious about repair
Prior to this new shareholder engagement, Microsoft received its fair share of negative headlines surrounding repair issues.
Perhaps most prominently, the company came under scrutiny for its behavior in the case of Eric Lundgren, an electronics-recycling innovator sent to federal prison for copying Dell restore discs, a free-to-download software meant to help fix old computers. According to reports at the time, “Microsoft’s lawyers said those discs ‘displaced Microsoft’s potential sales’ of Windows XP and Windows 7 through its Registered Refurbisher Program (RRP).”
Even though the discs are a free-to-download repair tool and do not work without a valid license key from Microsoft, the court was swayed by Microsoft’s arguments and ruled the discs were worth $700,000. The case resulted in a 15-month prison sentence for Lundgren.
At the time of the ruling, PIRG publicly pressured Microsoft to change its stance against Lundgren and its overall policies on recycling and repair.
In the aftermath of the scandal, the company has made some progress. It redesigned its Surface laptop for improved repairability. Windows 10 is also reverse compatible with many older computers, which means that older machines can upgrade to the new operating system.
But any progress toward a greener Microsoft is significantly undercut unless the company takes a different approach to repair.
Researchers estimate that 85 percent of the climate impact of a smartphone comes from the initial manufacturing stage. If Americans could use their phones for just one more year on average, 42.5 million pounds of raw material would be saved every day.
We don’t need to waste our money every year on expensive new devices that only serve to deplete our bank accounts and degrade the planet. Instead, we need the devices we’ve already spent our money on to buy, and used the planet’s resources to make, to work as long as possible.
Senior Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Nathan leads U.S. PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, working to pass legislation that will prevent companies from blocking consumers’ ability to fix their own electronics. Nathan lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.