Business meets social: circularity for phones

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Electronic waste, or e-waste, is often seen as one of the telecom industry’s biggest global challenges. But what if it’s actually a huge opportunity for business and society?

Buying Green

It’s on the agenda for just about any large organisation: green procurement. Ecovadis’ research in 2017 mentioned that some 97% of all corporates, municipalities and national governments aim to buy stuff in a (more) responsible way. One year later, Accenture concluded that our industry is not doing great on ‘sustainable consumption’; delivering products and services that move away from good old ‘take-make-waste’.

One for One

Two problems? Or one opportunity? Several organisations in the telecom industry are trying out a circular service now commonly known as ‘One for One’. It is explained in this short video, and is quite straight forward: the material footprint of a new phone is offset by recycling one old ‘scrap phone’. The latter is collected in the emerging world, where electronic waste is abundant.

Companies like T-Mobile and Samsung see the service as a simple, transparent way to offer green services – or ‘circularity’ – to their customers. These customers, such as the Dutch government, are able to procure phones in a green, ‘closed loop’ way.

‘Circularity as a service’

So, how does this work? When a customer purchases a new phone, a small fee is added to the purchase price. That fee is used to pay for an ‘offset’: the collection of an end-of-life scrap phone in a developing country, such as Ghana. The scrap phone is bought through small phone repair shops or other informal channels – thus creating jobs and income, while reducing pollution. Next stop: Europe, where this ‘waste’ can be recycled and over ten – increasingly scarce – precious metals are extracted and made fit for re-use.

This service thus offers an easy, practical form of circularity – without the normal side-effect of a complicated procurement process.

Future proof industry

We can be quite proud to be part of the telecom industry. Let’s be honest; no product is more iconic than a phone, as it symbolizes innovation and advancement. But most of all, the telecom industry is really good at telling great stories. But that strength and marketing power could also be used for a green purpose; to create an appealing story of how we can all contribute to more recycling — not because you have to, or by stating it’s ones responsibility. But by proclaiming the beauty of working together to make this industry waste-free and sustainable.

That’s how we can make telecom future-proof. I look forward to discussing this more in the panel debate “Strategies to boost climate action in the ICT sector” at ITU Telecom World in Budapest this September.

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