Promoting sustainable and responsible electronics

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Commown https://commown.coop/

Commown is a French cooperative established in 2018. It strives to promote responsible and long-lived electronics by renting out devices and appliances, including smartphones, computers and headsets, and by collaborating with partners that provide hardware and software support.

The Challenges
In 2019, 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) were produced globally, and 82% of such waste was likely to be dumped or recycled in a way that was environmentally unfriendly (Forti et al., 2020). The improper treatment of e-waste can cause health and environmental problems. People living nearby e-waste treatment sites suffer diseases related to the skin, stomach and respiratory system (ILO, 2012). At the same time, workers dismantling or burning the e-waste have problems like abnormal immune system, blood diseases and cancer, and may even lead to high incidences of birth defects and underdevelopment of brain in their children (ibid.). When incinerating and dismantling the waste, pollutants and heavy metal particles will be released and results in air pollution (ibid.). Also, when the pollutants enter the food chain, they will accumulate in the lands and cause possible poisoning the livestock and human beings (ibid.).

The Solution
As a cooperative, Commown cooperates with producers of durable electronic devices, like smartphones, laptops and headphones, and rents them to the users on a monthly basis. All the devices selected by Commown are designed to be easily repairable so that they can be fixed and reused when they become faulty. For instance, the Gerrard Street headphones adopt a fully modular design so users can replace broken parts rather than replacing the entire headphone. Also, the gadgets are characterised with environmentally friendly features. For example, the Fairphone 3 is made of recycled materials like plastic and copper, while the Why! computers are designed to have low levels of electricity consumption, so the raw materials and energy consumption can be minimised. Through the cooperation with the electronics producers, Commown hopes to support their research and development in responsible electronics, so they can produce more sustainable electronics without much harm to the environment. Moreover, Commown encourages companies they work with to adopt socially and environmentally sustainable practices so that it would be sustainable to use those devices.

The Impact
As of May 2019, Commown has rented about 600 items of responsible electronics to its members and raised the awareness of over 500,000 people on the topic of sustainable electronics (Finasol, 2020). Now Commown is joined by different cooperatives and companies in Europe, for example Fairphone, Mobicoop and La Nef. These are all enterprises with mission to contribute to sustainability. With these partners, Commown is able to get the technological and financial support required to promote sustainable use of electronics. The idea and contribution of Commown is also highly recognised by the European community. For example, Commown won the C-Voucher Programme organised by the European Union for their innovativeness and circular economic model (C-Voucher, 2019). Commown was also the winner of the Grand Prix de la Finance Solidaire 2019 in the category of technology and solidarity (Finasol, 2020).


C-Voucher. (2019). D4.5 Circularity Solutions Report. https://c-voucher.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/C-Voucher_Deliverable_4_5_CE-solution.pdf.

Commown. [Online]. https://commown.coop/. (Only available in French).

Finasol. (2020). Commown. https://www.finansol.org/project/commown/. (Only available in French).

Forti, V., Baldé, C. P., Kuehr, R., & Bel, G. (2020). The Global E-waste Monitor 2020: Quantities, flows and the circular economy potential. http://ewastemonitor.info/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/GEM_2020_def_dec_2020-1.pdf

International Labour Office. (2012). The global impact of e-waste: Addressing the challenge. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_dialogue/---sector/documents/publication/wcms_196105.pdf