The Right to Repair movement is gaining traction among investors and pushing companies to accelerate engagement with product sustainability.

Right to Repair, a concept that has been around since 2003, proposes that consumers be given the means to easily access product repairs, typically through third-party technicians and manufacturers.

In the last year, Right to Repair legislation has been introduced in 27 states and the U.S. Congress. In July 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the Federal Trade Commission to develop rules on “unfair anti-competitive restrictions on third-party repair.”

Shareholders, including the likes of Green Century Capital Management and As You Sow, have filed multiple proposals with U.S. technology and manufacturing companies in recent months seeking easy consumer access to product repairs, and these engagements are promptly yielding results.

On March 24, Green Century revealed that it had withdrawn a proposal at Dell Technologies, in response to the company providing assurance that it will make product repair accessible for customers.

Green Century’s proposal asked Dell to report on how it makes product repairs easily available to consumers, amid concerns of growing attention from legislators on companies restricting repair of devices to their own authorized servicers.

In a recent position statement, Dell outlined its approach to product repair and circular design, noting its longstanding support of its “customers’ choice to repair their own device.” An accompanying blog post also explored the company’s definition of repairability.

Annalisa Tarizzo, shareholder advocate with Green Century, told Insightia that more companies like Dell need to promptly take action on repairability, with investors being concerned that technology companies “may not be prepared to comply with potential new laws on the issue.”

Dell is not the first issuer to face calls to broaden customer access to repairs. In November, Apple revealed that it will make parts and repair manuals publicly available, mere weeks after filing a no-action request with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to block a proposal from Green Century calling for enhanced Right to Repair reporting.

Microsoft similarly agreed in October to increase consumers’ options to repair their devices, in response to As You Sow’s shareholder proposal urging the S&P 500 technology giant to reduce its electronic waste.

Microsoft will also conduct a third-party study evaluating the environmental and social impacts associated with increasing consumer access to repair and to determine new mechanisms to increase access to repair for its devices.

Not every company has been willing to engage on this issue. In December, Green Century withdrew a proposal seeking Right to Repair reporting at S&P 500 farm equipment manufacturer Deere, claiming that the company “dismiss[ed] shareholder concerns” and was unwilling to discuss the issue further.

Companies won’t be able to hide their heads in the sand forever. As Right to Repair legislation continues to enter into discussions at the state level, firms will be expected to comply with new policies and regulations.

“Right to Repair is still a new issue in the investor space, but I do think it is going to gain more and more attention in the coming year,” Green Century’s Tarizzo told Insightia in an interview. “Right to Repair is popular with consumers, and the momentum on the regulatory side of things is only growing. If it hasn’t grabbed investors’ attention yet, I think it will very soon.”

Despite no Right to Repair proposals having been subject to a vote at shareholder meetings as of yet, the issue of pollution and waste is already winning the favor of investors. The six shareholder proposals subject to a vote at U.S.-listed companies in 2021 seeking industrial waste/pollution reporting won an average of 39.7% support, compared to 10.6% and 29.9% support in 2019 and 2020, respectively, according to Insightia data.

Given the mounting level of support for environmental shareholder proposals in the past few years, it is reasonable to suspect that when a Right to Repair proposal is subject to a vote it could go on to win impressive levels of support, making clear that issuers need to take action sooner rather than later.