They say the third time is the charm; maybe it takes the third-largest cell phone company in the U.S. to launch a leading electronics stewardship policy. Working with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), ABI Research, and the Basel Action network, last week Sprint announced a long term plan on how the cell phone carrier will handle the handsets it sells from product design to the end of their use.
The announcement at an electronics recycling conference last week builds upon its environmental vision the company established three years ago.
According to Sprint, its product stewardship will include the following goals, all to be met by 2017:
- Sprint will collect 100% of its electronic waste for reuse and recycling.
- For every 10 phones the company sells, Sprint vows to collect 9 phones for reuse or recycling.
- Sprint will require its vendors and manufacturers to meet the company’s certification requirements by 2013.
- All Sprint-branded electronics should meet the company’s scorecard criteria for environmental design.
Sprint has already established some goals in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) arena. The company is committed to procuring 10% of its energy needs from renewables by 2017; has pushed its vendors to supply more eco-friendly devices; and works with a bevy of environmental organizations to hash out issues including the reduction of its carbon footprint and improving products’ design–with the recycling devices at the forefront of Sprint’s efforts.
How impressed consumers are with Sprint’s changes will depend with their comparison to what competitors are doing and how they feel about the cell phone and electronics industries’ initiatives overall. Sprint does offer a few “eco-friendlier” phones, and offers a couple “green” accessories. Companies like Sprint are both responsible for, and now beholden to, consumers’ demands for the latest, greatest, and most innovative smartphones. Consumers have long bought new gizmos at a more rapid frequency than the pace at which their parents and grandparents bought new shoes.
So confronting consumers’ habits is a challenging one to change. More can be done, however; improved design that allows recyclers to break down phones more easily; standard chargers ensuring that consumers are not stuck with a box of black electronic spaghetti in their closet or the trash; and improved customer education and incentives so that unwanted phones do not end up in the garbage or taken apart in a grisly sweatshop. Critiques aside, Sprint is making a difference. Now if only the big cell phone companies would back off the mandatory two-year contracts, which frustrate consumers while doing little to stop the revolving door of new cell phone purchases and e-waste.