Making Strides Towards Sustainability

Mobile companies are revolutionising their practices to address the environmental impact of the industry. We take a look at how.

In a world where technology is evolving rapidly and consumer demand for the latest innovation continues to surge, the mobile industry faces significant challenges in terms of sustainability. The lifecycle of a mobile phone has significant environmental impacts. To tackle these challenges, mobile companies are increasingly recognising their responsibility to adopt sustainable practices. 

Eco-friendly materials

One significant step towards sustainability is the use of eco-friendly materials in the manufacturing process. Companies are exploring alternatives to traditional plastics and metals, opting for biodegradable or recyclable materials. Some manufacturers are incorporating recycled plastics into their device casings, reducing the demand for new plastic production and minimising waste.

Mobile phone brand Fairphone claims that 70% of the materials used in its latest device, the Fairphone 5, are sourced from fair focus or recycled sources. This commitment to ethical resourcing not only minimises environmental impact but also ensures fair treatment of workers throughout the supply chain. Additionally, Fairphone says it is enhancing transparency in its supply chain and actively addressing its material footprint, demonstrating a dedication to responsible production practices.

Smartphone brand Teracube is also doing great things regarding sustainability. For every device sold, the company will plant a tree through a partnership with the One Tree Planted organisation. The company's Teracube 2E model, it says, is made with 25% recycled polycarbonate, has 50% less packaging than other smartphone models and comes with a biodegradable phone case. Users can also repair the phone themselves, prolonging its life past the average two- to three-year lifespan of a smartphone.

The circular economy

Mobile association the GSMA is at the forefront of advocating for the circular economy as a feasible solution for the future. Its vision entails establishing a sustainable path for mobile devices, one that revolves around a 'zero waste' supply chain and the creation of smartphones with extended lifespans. 

Steven Moore, Head of Climate Action at GSMA and Mobile Sector Lead for the UN Climate Champions says: “The mobile industry is making real progress on circularity, but there’s a lot more to do to reduce the environmental impact of devices we rely on every day to stay connected. By setting out a new vision of systemic change for the sector, we’re laying the groundwork for the mobile industry to reduce material waste and increase the longevity of devices.” 

Energy efficiency

Mobile companies are also focusing on improving the energy efficiency of their devices to reduce their carbon footprint. This includes optimising hardware components for better power consumption, as well as developing software features to prolong battery life. Moreover, companies are investing in renewable energy sources for their manufacturing facilities and data centres, further reducing their environmental impact.

In 2023 Apple published an Environmental Progress Report which details that reducing the energy consumption of products is a key strategy in mitigating its carbon footprint, particularly during operational lifespan. Notably, in 2022, all eligible Apple devices were awarded an ENERGY STAR® rating demonstrating Apple's commitment to prioritising environmental sustainability.  

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives says: “We are closer than ever to achieving our vision of Apple 2030, our ambitious goal to make every product carbon neutral by 2030, and we are thrilled to celebrate the tremendous progress.”

Extended product lifecycles

Encouraging consumers to hold onto their devices for longer periods is another strategy being widely adopted by mobile companies to promote sustainability. This involves designing products that are durable and repairable, allowing for easier maintenance and extending their lifespan. Additionally, companies are offering software updates for older devices to ensure they remain functional and secure, thus reducing the need for frequent upgrades.

To address the issue of electronic waste (e-waste), mobile companies are also implementing recycling programmes to responsibly dispose of old devices. Many manufacturers offer trade-in programmes where customers can exchange their used devices for credit towards a new purchase. These incentivise recycling and ensure that valuable materials are recovered and reused in the production of new devices.

Beyond the prominent players in the mobile industry, organisations like Oxfam encourage individuals to recycle their mobile phones. Oxfam converts the proceeds from recycled phones into funds to purchase essential equipment. This includes items like water tanks, wells, tools, seeds, school books, and various other necessities. Through this initiative, Oxfam not only promotes environmental sustainability by diverting electronic waste from landfills but also facilitates meaningful contributions to community development projects worldwide.

Supply chain transparency 

Transparency in the supply chain is crucial for ensuring ethical sourcing of materials and labour practices. Mobile companies are increasingly working towards greater transparency by tracing the origin of raw materials, ensuring compliance with environmental and social standards, and collaborating with suppliers to improve sustainability practices throughout the supply chain.

Reducing packaging waste is another area where mobile companies are making strides towards sustainability. Companies are exploring minimalist packaging designs, using recycled or biodegradable materials, and eliminating unnecessary accessories to reduce the environmental impact of packaging. Moreover, some manufacturers are experimenting with innovative packaging solutions, such as plant-based materials or reusable packaging options. Samsung has pledged to remove all single-use plastics from its mobile phone packaging by 2025, for example. 

The 2023 Buying Green Report, released in conjunction with Earth Day, shows that despite consumer prices rising substantially due to global inflation, consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for products in sustainable packaging. Overall, 82% of respondents would be willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, up four points from 2022 and eight points since 2021, signalling that even with a worsening economic situation, the environment remains a consumer priority. Younger consumers (18–24 year-olds) are even more willing, leading at 90%.

Investing in green initiatives

Beyond their products and operations, mobile companies are also investing in broader sustainability initiatives. This includes funding research and development of renewable energy technologies, supporting environmental conservation projects, and advocating for policies that promote sustainability and combat climate change. By leveraging their resources and influence, mobile companies can drive positive change on a global scale.


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