Fixers Know What ‘Repairable’ Means—Now There’s a Standard for It
Legislation

Fixers Know What ‘Repairable’ Means—Now There’s a Standard for It

Last week, three years of arguing with industry finally paid off, as the European standard EN45554 was published. This official document with an unexciting name details ”general methods for the assessment of the ability to repair, reuse and upgrade energy-related products.” In plain English, it’s a standard for measuring how easy it is to repair stuff. It’s also a huge milestone for the fight for fair repair.

So why is this a big deal?

We want to repair the stuff we own, so we can use it for longer. This is not only important because we want our money’s worth out of the things we paid for, but because manufacturing new products is a huge and underestimated driver of climate change. So if we want to avoid cooking our planet, we need to stop churning out disposable electronics and start repairing more. Like, right now.

The problem is, industry won’t do this by itself. Managers get ahead by showing quarterly sales growth, not increased product lifespans. Hence we need the government to step in, banning unrepairable products and helping consumers—that’s you!—to identify the most durable products out there, so as to empower them to make better purchasing decisions. And in the EU, our political leaders are getting ready to do so.

But here’s the rub: those leaders don’t know what a repairable product is. If you ask manufacturers, they will all tell you their products are repairable. If you ask us, some devices clearly are more repairable than others, and some are frankly just not repairable at all.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Teardown
Some products are frankly unrepairable, if you ask us.

So in order to regulate repairability, we needed a universally accepted way of measuring how repairable products are. That’s what a CEN-CENELEC working group has been developing for the past three years. I’ve been a member of that working group, representing the interests of, well, our planet (said planet having nominated me as an expert through ECOS, an environmental organization specialized in standardization).

It was decided early on that the standard was going to be a toolbox, a collection of criteria and methods from which to choose, depending on the product. First, we laid down criteria to decide which parts of the product the evaluation should focus on, be it physical parts or code (firmware or software). Then we identified different dimensions of repairability. Some are properties of the product itself, such as the type of fasteners and the tools needed to disassemble the product. Some are related to after-sales service, such as support for troubleshooting or the availability of spare parts and information. 

Good, better, best: The most repairable products are those that can be disassembled with no more than a few simple tools. (Table from EN45554, classifying repairability according to required tools)

We then created scoring tables for all of these aspects. Finally, we came up with a flexible aggregation formula to roll all of the identified parameters into a single repairability score, while adapting the specific criteria and their weights to the type of product evaluated .

Reaching a consensus on all this was not easy. There was intense debate about each aspect. We fussed about nearly every word, even commas. The vast majority of the working group were representatives of manufacturers. While some seemed ready to improve their products and services, some just wanted to make sure whatever they were already making would score well. And frankly, some seemed hell-bent on sabotaging the process every step of the way.

Still, those eager to see change made progress. We wrote proposal after proposal, and had several drafts rejected by the national representatives. But in November 2019, we finally got the text approved—and we now have an official standard for repair-friendliness.

This is a milestone. For the first time ever, our take on repairability is not just iFixit’s opinion. Instead, the EU now has a generally accepted document that lays down a hierarchy of repair options. It’s now official, for example, that snap-fits that break off when you try to open up a product, make it unrepairable. Or that using exotic types of screws in a product is hostile to service and repair. If manufacturers only share service manuals with their authorised repair network, they’re coming up short. And if they really want their products to be repaired as much as possible, they should supply spare parts to whoever asks for them.

These are things we’ve been saying for years, but now we finally have them written in black and white.

But we’re not done yet. Now this toolbox needs to be taken to work. Further discussions will determine how these general principles should be applied to specific product types, and how the various criteria should be weighed for each product. You can be sure we’ll have our say in the matter.

As the French would say, the Schmilblick is moving ahead. France will be introducing a mandatory repairability label next year. With the European Right to Repair campaign, we’re pushing to have every single product sold in the EU carry a similar label, so that you can choose a product that you’ll be able to fix when it breaks. If it were up to us, the first product to get such an official EU repairability label would be smartphones. (Until that time comes, have a look at iFixit’s smartphone repairability scores). And beyond choosing a repairable phone, we want to make sure that when fixing time comes, you have a legal right to get your hands on the needed parts. 

Picture a moment a few years from now, when you drop your phone. Do you want it to be up to the manufacturer to decide if you can fix it or if you are pushed toward buying a new one? Or should you have a real choice? If you’d like to be in a position to decide for yourself, sign our petition requiring that all phones should be made repairable. We’ll use the general criteria we’ve now laid down to set repairability requirements that all smartphone manufacturers will need to comply with.

Right to Repair smartphone petition
Now is the time to call for repairable smartphones. Sign our petition to make it happen.

Now that we’re all agreed on what “repairable” actually means, there are no more excuses. It’s time for a fixable future!