I really wanted to share with you this “rumour” spread by Bloomberg a few days ago (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-03-24/apple-is-working-on-a-hardware-subscription-service-for-iphones): Apple is reportedly about to offer a monthly subscription service for its devices (smartphones and computers) as a replacement for “traditional” device sales.


Which report is that, you ask? The environmental impact…


Let’s start with repairs: previously, customers had to go to a certified repair centre in order to retain their warranty. However, obtaining certification was extremely constrictive (repairs had to be authenticated using Apple software not accessible to the public, repairers had to agree to only buy parts from the multinational, etc.). This is logical coming from a company that opposed the FTC’s 2021 law for decades. Now it will be less expensive to make your devices last longer… The stakes are high: According to a study by Ecosystème, every French person owns between five and 11 unused electronic products (ranking France eighth among countries producing the most electronic waste per inhabitant with 21.3 kg per inhabitant per year).

Let’s continue with the story of the moment: subscription. At first glance this isn’t a big move forward, because whether you’re renting out or selling a phone, its manufacturing process will have already had environmental consequences (consumption of a large quantity of water, extraction of rare materials, energy used for the entire process, etc.).

Even so, I’d like to see this as the first step in a transformative movement that all businesses will need to undertake in the short or medium term (particularly the manufacturing sectors). In recent months, I and my friends from the “digital frugality” group of the Convention of Businesses for the Climate (and more generally with all participants of this initiative, i.e. 300 directors) have been reflecting on the need to reorient companies’ activities to take the planet’s limits into account (which involves maximising their positive externalities while reducing their negative externalities). The more we consider the matter, the more we work on our roadmaps (with experts on the subject such as Christophe Sempels), as well as our “regenerative” subjects, and the more obvious it becomes:

“Volume” models need to make way for “regenerative” models. However, this can only happen if there’s a disruption in the chain of “responsibility” during a product’s life.

Or ceci ne peut pas se réaliser s’il y a une rupture de la chaîne de However, this cannot be achieved if there is a break in the chain of “responsibility” during the life of the product.

Let me explain: Today, Apple makes a phone. Someone buys it. A few years later, this smartphone ends up in a drawer without being recycled (the “Green IT” collective puts the number of smartphones sitting in French people’s drawers at over 100 million).

Quel est l’intérêt d’Apple ? Vous en vendre très vite un nouveau => son profit en dépend. C’est ce qu’on appelle un business basé sur les volumes. Il ne faut donc pas s’étonner que « ça » casse, « ça » rame (obsolescence programmée ou pas), « ça » devienne ringard dès qu’un nouveau produit apparaît etc.

What’s in it for Apple? You very quickly sell a new one => its profits depend on this. This is what’s known as a volume-based business. It should therefore come as no surprise that “it” breaks, struggles to keep up (planned obsolescence or otherwise) and falls out of favour as soon as a new product appears, etc.

Now imagine that Apple continues to own the product. This means that the product’s issuer = the manufacturer will be brought back in at the end of its life, as the smartphone will be returned to it. Its benefit becomes exactly the opposite of what it had in a volume model: the longer the product lasts, the less it needs repairing. The longer you use it without replacing it (under your subscription contract for example), the more profitable it will be for Apple. Under these conditions, we have the chance to see virtuous behaviours emerge throughout a product’s life cycle: a design that fosters longevity and recyclability, software optimised to run on “old” hardware platforms, etc. We can hope that in the long term, the benefits linked to products’ longevity won’t be cancelled out by the increase in the number of products that Apple could generate through its rentals (as customers would be able to afford a monthly subscription, versus being unable to buy an iPhone costing over €1,000).

Taking this idea further: This type of transformation could reduce (or uncouple) anxiety linked to Kaya’s equation (GDP growth => CO2 emissions growth).

Indeed, recycling/reuse that reduces production in favour of subscription offers and services that don’t consume much in the way of natural resources could represent progress, value growth and a huge reduction in negative externalities.

So what if we all left device ownership to manufacturers?

Bertrand BAILLY