Hardware

How can I be a more ethical techie?

Ethical techie
The modular Fairphone is made fairly from conflict-free materials

Our constant desire for the newest, shiniest devices means we often overlook the darker sides of the tech world: illegal working conditions in Chinese factories, the huge environmental impact and the fact that many tech companies pay little, or no, tax. But what’s the solution? How can you be a more ethical techie?

The simplest answer is to put your money where your mouth is. Plenty of tech companies in the UK and further afield selling products that have been made fairly and with a low environmental impact. We explore three ground-breaking options below.

Another solution is, of course, re-use. Not only does buying secondhand save money, it also means you’re using half as many raw materials. However, there’s still a chance that the secondhand laptop, smartphone or tablet came from an exploitative factory…

How to be a more ethical techie: Fairphone

The Fairphone 2

Dutch company Fairphone has a simple aim: to develop and fairly manufacture modular smartphones with minimal environmental impact. The company outlines three steps to achieving its goal:

  1. Make the phones last as long as possible. Fairphone’s modular design – essentially, all of the parts can be accessed easily and replaced without faff – should mean that the devices have a far longer lifespan than big-name brands (looking at you, Apple).
  2. Responsible sourcing of raw materials. By sourcing precious metals from certain regions, big companies may indirectly be funding devastating conflicts. However, rather than just turning its back on countries that would still benefit from exporting raw materials, Fairphone is setting up “transparent supply chains” with conflict-free and Fairtrade mines in, for example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  3. Fair working conditions. Conditions at certain factories in China, where most smartphone components are produced, are appalling, with minimal workers’ rights and incredibly long hours. Fairphone wants to change the system. In the words of its website, to “improve working conditions in the heart of the electronics sector, including health and safety, worker representation and working hours”.

“That all sounds good and noble, but I bet the phones cost an arm and a leg,” you may mutter. Nope. The Fairphone 2, pictured above, will set you back €529 and comes with 32GB storage, a removable battery, two SIM slots, a 5in 1080p display and a 12MP rear camera. It’s also the first phone to be given the coveted Blue Angel certification in Germany, guaranteeing that it’s an environmentally friendly product.

Okay, it might not have the glamour of an iPhone Xs or the latest OnePlus, but if you’re heartily sick of the smartphone roundabout and want to make a positive difference with your next purchase, Fairphone is an excellent option. 

How to be a more ethical techie: Ecosia

I’m a big fan of Ecosia’s “tree ticker”

Founded in 2009 and based in Berlin, Ecosia is about as different to Google Search as it’s possible to be. While the giant tech firm is primarily profit-focussed, Ecosia turns the money it makes into trees.

At the time of writing, the company had planted a stunning 38,885,488 trees around the world at a cost of €0.20 per tree. At the top of the list are countries – such as Ethiopia, Madagascar, Brazil, Indonesia and Spain – that have been severely hit by deforestation, caused by logging or natural disasters.

Installing Ecosia is easy: simply head to the homepage and click the blue “Add to Chrome” (or another browser) to install the plugin. Then it’s just a case of using Google Chrome as normal, but it’s now powered by Ecosia. 

For those with a competitive side, there is also a “tree ticker” at the top of the Ecosia homepage that shows how many searches you have performed. It takes an average of 45 searches to generate enough ad revenue for a tree, meaning you’ll finally have an excuse to waste time searching for obscure Wikipedia pages, cat videos and moth memes.

However, while it’s undoubtedly a brilliant idea, there are a few issues. First, Ecosia is noticeably slower than Google Search. Second, the design is a tad clunky, especially the Images results page. Third, it injects, often very tangentially related, adverts into the top of the results. Here’s a prime example…

Nevertheless, it’s worth giving Ecosia a try. Just make sure you do at least 45 searches…

How to be a more ethical techie: VeryPC

The Broadleaf One

Based in Sheffield, VeryPC describes itself as “a bunch of geeks into all kinds of technology”. It’s also proof that an environmentally conscious approach isn’t just limited to smartphone manufacturers.

The company’s flagship product, the Broadleaf One (pictured above), is an ultra-small, 22 x 22cm “green” PC. Its components have been chosen for their low toxicity and VeryPC sources European materials to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible (there’s even an option to offset the carbon overhead when you buy a Broadleaf One, should you wish).

However, just because the Broadleaf One is small, it’s no lightweight: the chassis is made from scratch-resistant, 3mm-thick aluminium. That adds to its environmental credentials as, obviously, the longer the PC lasts, the longer you can go without replacing it.  

Internally, the latest Broadleaf one can be equipped with an Intel Core i3-7100, i5-7400 or  i7-7700 processor, up to 32GB of RAM, integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 and five USB ports. If that makes you green with envy (I’ll get my coat), contact a VeryPC specialist here.

READ NEXT: How can I recycle my smartphone in the UK?

About the author

Max Figgett

Max has written for numerous websites and magazines over the years. Whether it’s about ancient hardware or software secrets, no Big Tech Question is too obscure for him to tackle.

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