Microsoft Vows to Expand Its Device Repair Options

·5 min read


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  • Microsoft has committed to studying the environmental impact of making its products more easily repairable—and acting on that report's findings.

  • Shareholder pressure played a big role, but the move is also good marketing.

  • Experts with the right-to-repair movement are cautiously optimistic about the news.

Xbox lovers and Surface tablet devotees, rejoice: it could soon be a hell of a lot easier to repair your expensive Microsoft electronics, marking a potential win for the right-to-repair movement.

Following pressure from shareholders, Microsoft agreed to hire an independent third-party to research how making more repairable products will affect the environment and its customers, as Grist first reported on Monday.

🔨 You support the right-to-repair. So do we. Let's fix stuff together.

As You Sow—a Berkeley, California-based advocacy group—will conduct that study, which should be finalized by the end of 2022. From there, Microsoft will reportedly evaluate the conclusions and act on them. Those in the right-to-repair movement are considering this a meaningful victory.

By agreeing to pursue this report, Microsoft will become the first major U.S. device manufacturer to buckle under shareholder pressure and consider right-to-repair reform. Grist reports that similar pressure campaigns are underway at Apple and John Deere.

This saga goes back to June 24, when As You Sow filed a shareholder resolution that requested that Microsoft "analyze the environmental and social benefits of making its devices more easily repairable through measures such as the public provision of tools, parts, and repair instructions." As You Sow represents broad social interests for shareholders, but their listed priority groups don't explicitly include right-to-repair.

Shareholders vote on resolutions using a version of parliamentary procedure, in much the same way that you might have voted on your student council—blow the dust off your copy of Robert's Rules of Order. This Microsoft shareholder resolution lists a great deal of supporting evidence for the right-to-repair, and it ends with:

Be it resolved: Shareholders request that the Board prepare a report, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, on the environmental and social benefits of making Company devices more easily repairable by consumers and independent repair shops.

What's included in the supporting evidence? First, As You Sow cites a World Economic Forum report that states "electronic waste" is "the fastest growing waste stream in the world." This, they say, is linked with the "useful lifetime" of electronic devices. Microsoft has pledges on the books to help mitigate climate change, the resolution explains, but their work against right-to-repair undermines that important work.

When Popular Mechanics asked Microsoft for comment on the issue, the Redmond, Washington-based tech behemoth replied with this canned statement (and a link to a recent sustainability report):

Microsoft has a longstanding commitment to environmental sustainability. We also have a longstanding commitment to building high-quality, innovative, and safe devices that customers love. We have been taking steps for years to improve device repairability and to expand the available choices for device repair. As You Sow asked us to investigate the connections between our sustainability commitments and device repairability. It was a productive discussion, and we have agreed to undertake that important study, the results of which will be used to guide our product design and plans for expanding device repair options for our customers.

Repair Association executive director Gay Gordon-Byrne says Microsoft's position is both credible and shrewd. "I'm inclined to believe they are motivated to produce more repairable products, and to take advantage of the marketing value of being genuinely more sustainable," Gordon-Byrne tells Popular Mechanics by email. "Having a major [original equipment manufacturer] in support is a huge endorsement of the legitimacy of Right-to-Repair legislation. Now that Microsoft has done this—we can expect competitors will do the same."

Other right-to-repair supporters agree that Microsoft's decision is a step in the right direction for larger conversations about device repairability and a move away from planned obsolescence.

"This commitment is a big deal, and it appears to be more than just talk," says Kyle Wiens—the CEO and founder of iFixit, a company that publishes free "teardowns" (where products are completely disassembled and documented) and manuals in an attempt to make the tech marketplace more transparent for users. "The Surface Laptop has seen a dramatic improvement in repairability since the original design," he continues in an email to Popular Mechanics.

Wiens explains why businesses have shortened the lifespan of products: "Up until now, the major electronics manufacturers had been united in their consumer-hostile approach to forcing customers onto a rapid upgrade cycle." This is an opportunity for Microsoft to stand out, Wiens says. "Making parts, tools, and information available to their customers is essential for extending product lifespans. This could go a long way toward helping Microsoft meet their climate goals, and it's great news for every single Surface customer."

Microsoft's statement is one thing, but it has to deliver the report and then act on the results in a meaningful way in order to uphold its commitment.

"We'll be watching Microsoft closely for how they deliver on these commitments and whether they back off some of their anti-Right-to-Repair lobbying," Wiens says. "Whether you want to open your iPhone, or take your laptop to a neighborhood repair shop, what happens next could reverberate for a long time to come."

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