I interviewed Mark Schaffer who discussed Digital Right to Repair Coalition.
It’s nice to speak with you, Mark. Today I’m looking forward to hearing your views on the topic of digital right to repair coalition. Before we start, can you provide a brief background of yourself?
Sure. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, Dustin. My background, I am based out of Austin, Texas. I’ve been working as an environmental consultant going on seven years in the electronics industry. My background is in material science and engineering and environmental compliance work with a couple of different electronics companies as an employee of them. Since then, I have worked with a wide variety of Fortune 500 electronic companies and some other private organizations that are developing environmental standards that affect electronic companies. That’s really what I’ve been doing for the past probably 15 years or so.
Can you talk more about what this coalition is?
Sure. The Digital Right to Repair Coalition started maybe a year and a half two years ago really seriously. Really, the reason that it existed is to engage with manufacturers that are producing mostly electronics in this case and trying to work with them and also find ways to improve the rights of the consumers who are buying these products to be able to repair them. A lot of the manufacturers these days, they don’t qualify or they don’t allow a third party to do repairs much or they don’t enable it very well. It can be a challenge to get a lot of your electronic products that you have paid money for to repair based on your own choice. If I want to take my iPhone somewhere or my tablet or computer that I have, I may have difficulty getting a third party to repair it due to policies that may manufacturers may have set out. What the Digital Right to Repair Coalition is trying to do is basically enhance the consumers’ rights to be able to have the choice in how their products are repaired. They’re the owner of it; they should have the right to also choose how it is repaired.
Can you talk a little bit more about why it’s important?
Sure. What we find from a lot of the electronics and obsolescence of electronics is, you’ve got a couple of different things that happen. Certainly, people, they want the newest, greatest thing, the fastest, pretties, things like this. A lot of the electronics these days are almost more fashion accessories than they are maybe a utilitarian device anymore. What we want to make sure is that when people either need to repair their product because it’s broken or not working as well as they want it to or they decide, “Hey, I want to go to the next product,” the product they have, somebody else could then repair or re-use the right to be able to get that product back out into the market. It can have a second life and third life, a fourth life beyond the person who originally bought it. What we have found is that that ability is not enabled in many different products, different manufacturers, so what we want to do is ensure folks have the right to be able to do that with their products so that it extends the life of the product, reduces the amount of obsolescence.
If you look at it on a global scale, it does actually enable the moving of electronics from, say, Europe or the Americas, where you have a lot of users who are having these products and get tired of them and move into other parts of the world that don’t have as much access to those electronics into some of the southeast Asian markets, into Africa, into South America. That actually helps raise up those areas of society. There are lots of studies that have been done where the ability for a cell phone to get into the hands of folks in Africa has actually radically and positively changed the communities there and their ability to communicate and sell their goods. This idea of enabling repair, enabling an extra-long life or multiple lives of your devices really has global indications and we want to help ensure that that is allowed.
What are your recommendations for companies that are interested in moving forward with this?
The digital right to repair is really, it is a coalition of organizations that want support for repair. We have a lot of folks who are out there today, like SEI, a wide variety. If you go to the DigitalRightToRepair.org Web site, there’s a long list of supporters that we have.
What we really need is the manufacturers of these products to also be a part of this, to want to support this, so you get the Dells, the Nikons, the Apples, the Sonys; not to name any of them in particular, but those electronic manufacturers, they need to be on board with, “Yes, I want these products to be able to be repaired. I want the consumer to have the choice of how to repair them,” so they need to, pretty much in some cases, not prevent that because of limited accessibility of spare parts that are needed, accessibility of maybe tools that are needed, diagnostics on what needs to be fixed, how they can upgrade, in a lot of cases, software or firmware that might be in the device.
A lot of times that is, as we’re told by the manufacturer, very hard for the third parties to have access to that. The more that the manufacturer can do to basically make that available to anybody who really wants it; it’s going to be valuable. Folks who want to support that, if they come to the DRTR and can support us through being part of us or through their own activities in how they make service parts and manuals and other information to increase the life of their devices available.
Thank you, Mark. Thanks for sharing your views on the topic of the Digital Right to Repair Coalition.
Absolutely, no problem. The main message we try to tell people from a consumer standpoint is: You have paid for the device, so you own that device. You should also own the ability to choose how that device is repaired. Really, that’s what we’re all about, to provide the ability to have that choice, and that’s what we’re working toward.
About Mark Schaffer
Sustainability Executive and Independent Consultant