Restart Podcast Ep. 61: Introducing the French Repairability Index

French Repairability Index scores

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2021 is shaping up to be a big year for repair. At the beginning of the year, France introduced its new Repairability Index. Via this legislation, the government hopes to inform consumers about how repairable products are before purchase. By extension, it also aims to encourage manufacturers to make repairability a priority. 

Recently, the European Right to Repair campaign held a webinar on the French Repairability Index. In this episode, you will hear snippets from the guest speakers including Ernestas Oldyrevas, from ECOS; Jean-Paul Ventère, from the French Ministry of Ecology; and Laetitia Vasseur from HOP. For more information, and for the Right to Repair perspective, Chloé Mikolajczak – our campaigner for the European Right to Repair campaign –  also joined us for an interview. 

A repair score out of 10

We hear from both Mikolajczak and Oldyrevas about the long road that it took to reach this point. Civil society organisations have spent years campaigning for more repairability. The fact that something like the index has finally been adopted is a major move towards tackling e-waste and emissions. 

In the simplest terms, the index works by assigning a repairability score out of ten to each product. This score is calculated with a rating system comprising five criteria – as Ventère explains. The five criteria relate to documentation, disassembly, the availability and price of spare parts, and software updates. We are pleased to see that many of these criteria address the key pillars of the Right to Repair. At the moment, the index applies to smartphones, laptops, televisions, washing machines, and lawnmowers. But there is hope that it will be extended to cover more products in the future. 

Rating detail of the index

Transparency and trust

However, there are some major limitations in the legislation which many groups have highlighted, including HOP and the Right to Repair campaign. Firstly, manufacturers are not required to be fully transparent. This is because the finer detail of how the scores were reached is not available to the public. Vasseur argues that more information needs to be available to consumers for them to come to purchasing decisions – information that will relate to their real-life experience regarding repair. 

A secondary, and perhaps even more pressing issue, is that of self-declaration. The government decided the rating criteria of the index. However, it is the manufacturers themselves that report how their product stacks up. At the moment, there is no formal system in place to check how truthful companies are being.

“There is an issue because at the end of the day, if you leave the grading to manufacturers it’s complicated to have that full transparency. They can answer to some criteria, but that will be potentially either hard to verify or there’s a risk that they could kind of trick the system.”

Chloé Mikolajczak

Ventère believes that leaving it to civil society and other organisations to check the ratings will be enough to ensure there is no malpractice. However, Vasseur and Mikolajczak both worry that there are simply not enough resources for these organisations to provide a thorough and sustainable solution. 

Future ambitions

While there are valid concerns about the enforcement and ambitiousness of the index, there is also a sense of optimism shared by all of our guests. The French Repairability Index sets an important precedent to help consumers make more informed decisions about the products they buy. Oldyrevas points out that with almost all legislation there is a period of growing pains – the European Energy Label is an example.

For the European Right to Repair campaign, it is now time to pressure the European Commission to implement a similar system across the whole of the EU. Mikolajczak hopes an improved EU-wide index – based on the French one – can be effective to change manufacturers’ practices within and beyond Europe.

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[Photo credits: MTE]

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