European operators play the green card with smartphones

Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, Telia, and Vodafone jointly start Eco Rating labelling scheme to score how sustainable mobile phones are, aiming to encourage device makers and device buyers to be more environmentally minded.

Starting from June, the labelling scheme will stamp a score on phones to show how environmentally friendly the devices are throughout their entire life cycle. The score will be between 0 and 100, the higher the better environmental performance (though the initiative admits that “the highest possible score – 100 out of 100 – is very challenging for manufacturers to achieve.”).

The score is calculated using “a consistent evaluation methodology equally and objectively across 13 different environmental impacts and 6 circular economy criteria”, but not all the details of the 19 criteria are made visible to customers. Instead, in addition to the overall score, a device is also given indications on five “sub-scores”, measuring the device’s Durability, Repairability, Recyclability, Climate efficiency, and Resource efficiency. The label will look like the sample pictured.

The press release says “the mobile operators will begin to introduce the distinct Eco Rating labelling at point of sale”, though it isn’t clear whether the scheme will only cover devices sold at operators’ own retail outlets or it will extend to devices sold through open channels, like electronic stores or e-commerce platforms.

The programme will first be rolled out in 24 European markets where the participating operators have footprint, including most of the European Union countries as well as few non-EU states (Albania, Turkey, and the UK).

“Building a more sustainable future is our joint responsibility, so we believe the time is right to drive a harmonised, industry-wide Eco Rating Scheme that will improve transparency and help raise awareness of the environmental impact of the phones that our customers choose,” the CEOs of the five operators said in a joint statement. “We look forward to welcoming more manufacturers and telecoms operators to the Eco Rating initiative in the future, and we hope it will inspire the whole industry to accelerate its transition towards a more circular model for mobile phones.”

There are 12 mobile phone brands participating in the programme so far, including market leaders like Samsung and Huawei as well as fringe brands like Nokia and CAT. Apple, as often in industry initiatives like this, is an eye-catching absentee.

The evaluation methodology, according to the press release, has been “developed with technical support and supervision” from IHOBE. Short for “ingurumen hobekuntza mejora ambiental” in the Basque language and literally meaning “environmental improvement”, IHOBE is a company based in Bilbao, Spain and is owned by the Basque regional government. Device maker contribution as well as the latest standards and guidelines from the European Union, ITU-T, ETSI, and ISO are also used when developing the methodology, the press release says.

The Eco Rating initiative is clearly a response from some of Europe’s leading mobile operators to the growing awareness and demand of their customers for more active roles the industry should play in protecting the environment. The ITU’s latest E-waste Monitor report shows that e-waste generated per capita has grown from 6.4 kg in 2014 to 7.3 kg in 2019, and is expected to reach 9 kg by 2030.

Such knowledge and awareness have driven customers and investors alike to see green credentials as increasingly important criteria when they make purchase and investment decisions. Nokia had to strenuously defend the power efficiency of 5G, for example. The “Say on Climate” initiative, backed by the billionaire investor Sir Chris Hohn, has won the commitment by more than a dozen European, Canadian, and Australian companies. The ascendency of the Green movement has come to such a stage that in Germany the Green Party is seen to have a realistic chance to unseat the CDU in the next general election.


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