Phonebloks by Zina Burgers and Anouk Smidt


In which extent can the open source part of Phonebloks contribute to sustainability?


Explanation video:

‘’They advocate transparency, open source and open innovation and want to be the hub where the industry talk and listen to each other and to the public.’’

The main goal of Phonebloks is to reduce electronic waste by making every electronic devices modular. A device will have a longer lifespan, which decreases the total amount of electronic waste. Phonebloks does not want to build a new phone company because that will increase the waste at first. Phonebloks wants to improve and encourage existing companies to think about modular devices. They don’t want to compete with them.

This concept also had an impact on the pollution from transportation. Because there has less to be produced and to be transported.

But why do we need to reduce e-waste?

Because it’s a big problem. Every year 20 to 50 million tonnes of e-waste are generated worldwide. And E-waste is currently growing at around 4% per year and it’s the fastest growing waste stream in the EU. It accounts for 8% of all municipal waste in Europe which means it’s between 1 kg and 20 kg per person per year.




E-waste is not only a big problem for the environment. Electronic devices are made in low-wage countries so even if this is not the main point of Phonebloks, it will have an indirect impact on this. There will be less electronic devices because people will use it a longer time. Less production means fewer jobs. On the other side, there will be a new field of possibilities for developers and recycling plants.

­But the most social part of this project is the open source part. It all started with a kind of crowd funding. Phonebloks has spread their idea. To the consumers to get used to this new way of thinking. And to the companies, to encourage them to think about and invest in this subject.


At this point there are a lot of people aware of this project and an online community has started. It’s an online platform where suggestions, feedback and ideas are shared. And this is accessible for everybody. Consumers and companies can use the information and the ideas on the website. It does not belong to anyone.

That is why they support Project ARA from Google.


Project ARA is an initiative by Google that aims to develop an open hardware platform for creating modular smartphones. The platform will include a structural frame (endoskeleton that holds smartphone modules of the owner’s choice), such as a display, camera or an extra battery. It allows the user to swap, change, upgrade, and replace the modules without having to change everything.

The open hardware platform brings developers together to make the phone the best it can be. Not like any other projects Google has done. Google wants Project Ara to lower the entry barrier for phone hardware manufacturers so there could be “hundreds of thousands of developers” instead of the current handful of big manufacturers. Just like Phonebloks wants. So they collaborate. Phonebloks runs the community. Phonebloks also joins Project ARA, on occasion, to get sneak peeks at the Ara development team and prototypes, and to make YouTube videos about their process.’’


In this category there are 2 groups. The consumers and the companies. Economically seen, this idea asks for a big chance in all the phone companies. They make more money if a phone breaks and a consumer buys a new one.


With Phonebloks a device will have a longer lifespan so a company will have to make more profit with the basic model at the beginning. Because the modules are from different brands, there will have to be invented a new business model. Fact is, there is not one big one yet. Designers are creative in design but not in designing business models. And for every sustainable open source concept needs to be designed a new business model.

Open cultures is about the disappearance of hierarchy. But it takes a while to get used to that for everybody. The whole mindset of the industry has to be ruined first.

For the consumer it will only become more clear. A solid price for your basic model without any bloks. And you pay only for the bloks you need or want. Google has told the press that a basic model will cost between $50 -$100. The prices of the modules are unknown.

About open structures

The Open Structures (OS) project initiates a construction system where everyone designs for everyone. It is an ongoing experiment that wants to find out what happens if people design objects according to a shared modular grid, a common open standard that stimulates the exchange of parts, components, experiences and ideas and aspires to build
things together.

os 1

The ultimate goal is to initiate a universal, collaborative puzzle that allows the broadest range of people – from craftsmen to multinationals – to design, build and exchange the broadest range of modular components, resulting in a more flexible and scalable built environment. So less waste because you can reuse every component of a product. But also with this project, there isn’t a economical profitable business model yet.



In which extent can the open source part of Phonebloks contribute to sustainability?


We think that Phonebloks is a gentle step in the right direction of an open source culture with projects like open structures. Open source on itself is not per se sustainable but the outcome in the case of Phonebloks is. The open community gets consumers used to this modular phone by its approachable system. And on the other hand gets it companies forced to think about this sustainable concept because so many consumers are standing behind this idea. The modular idea behind Phonebloks is in an environmentally way sustainable because it reduces electronic waste. But not per se open source. It would be if you could 3D print the bloks yourself at home. Socially it’s sustainable because of the power of the people but also not sustainable because the amount of jobs can potentially decrease. Economically seen, Phonebloks is sustainable for the consumers since the prices are more clear and fair. But it’s still unknown for the companies how they can make a good profit from it, so we can not decide whether it’s sustainable for them or not.


We talked about this with Jeroen Bouweriks. (

And the spokesman of project ARA.


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