TCO Development believes right to repair will extend the life of IT products

Keeping an IT product running for longer will deliver the highest possible value while also reduce e-waste, TCO Development says.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor
Image: Getty Images

The right to repair IT products such as computers, laptops, and smartphones would not only help extend the life of a product, but it could also be the solution to reducing "lifetime emissions", TCO Development said.

"Right to repair, from our point of view, is one of the most critical enablers of a circular economy … meaning we need to keep the IT we already have in use for as along as possible, at its highest possible value," TCO Development global director of purchaser engagement Clare Hobby said, speaking during the Productivity Commission's virtual right to repair public hearing on Tuesday.

She clarified "longer use" by defining it as not only using a product for its initial intended purpose, but also for "facilitating greater access to replaceable components, repairable products for things like battery, memory, key components that can be replaced, and driving that functional secondary market for repaired and refurbished devices".

Based on a study carried out by TCO Development, up to 80% of the lifetime emissions of a computer happen in the manufacturing phase, long before it is procured, Hobby said.

"What we need to be thinking about is disrupting the frequency of manufacturing of new IT products. We need to slow down that rate of lifetime emissions," she urged.

The problem is particularly stark when it comes to the life span of printers, Hobby said. "Over 20% of printers in use today are used less than 3% of the usable life before being switched out to a brand new product, either through a lease contract or ownership contract," she said.

A similar trend also exists in the hyperscaler market. "There is a perception that a server is a three-year product where really they're actually designed to last for 10 years, and so because of the data security concerns, a lot of servers are being decommissioned and actually shredded. The same with laptops, particularly in some healthcare settings, because of data security," Hobby said.

She acknowledged, however, there is evidence that some changes are being enforced.

"We need to move away from the typical three to four years use cycle. We're seeing, particularly in the public sector in the corporate space, where it has gotten very, very good at delivering good products at a low cost at high frequency, and ... we're seeing more and more procurement contractors extending that use phase now to five to six years," Hobby said.

Hobby further added to move the conversation around minimising e-waste along, focus would need to be placed at the product design stage. 

"That's when the change happens, it's when we can harness and aggregate the leverage, the budget, and the demand of organisations, large consumers, that have the mandates to incorporate ESG and sustainability into their ICT procurement," she said.

Hobby also took the opportunity to highlight that having a right to repair would be vital for addressing future component shortages, much like the global chip shortage that has resulted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In our experience that points us in the direction of even stronger need for right to repair … right now we're seeing delays in certain chips for 1-1.5 years, particularly coming out of Taiwan, so this is something for resiliency moving forward," she said.

For the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), the public hearing on Tuesday was an opportunity to draw the Productivity Commission's attention to the common downside of allowing unauthorised third-party repairers to repair an electronic product.

"As products become more complex and integrated, it's going to become increasingly difficult to determine faults or to isolate issues to certain parts of a product, and that creates some more issues with repair," Ai Group policy officer Rachael Wilkinson said.

"For example, if the wrong chip is inserted into a laptop, it can short the entire system, so getting the right part is very important.

"One member advised us of seeing an unauthorised third-party repair where they'd actually used blue cellophane beneath the screen to mimic the look of LCD, and it had been attached using a hot glue gun … we would argue that is the reality of providing carte blanche to people who are not authorised or not accredited in some way to be doing repairs."

"But in the event that such prohibitions are introduced, they should be designed to limit manufacturer liability for damage beyond their control."


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