Business meets social: circularity for phones

Joost de Kluijver Blog

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.

About the Author

Joost de Kluijver

founder and CEO, Closing the Loop. As the founder and CEO of Amsterdam based social enterprise 'Closing the Loop' (CTL), Joost de Kluijver has developed a service that delivers on the growing demand for more sustainable telecom. His organisation has built a business model that fuels proper, safe and corruption-free electronic waste management in emerging markets. CTL has bought over 2.3 million broken mobile phones through informal African collection networks since 2012, enabling their proper recycling. This waste collection is the basis of acommercial service which CTL calls "One-for-One". It allows for tangible telecom circularity: new phones are made 'material-neutral' by the collection and recycling of a scrap phone. CTL's founder will tell you how Closing the Loop managed to bring Samsung, T-Mobile and many others on board towards 'circularity for phones'. Joost has also worked for Accenture and the Global Reporting Initiative.

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