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Sprint Sets the Bar for Sustainable Phone Design

By Kara Scharwath

At the highly anticipated Consumer Electronics Show (CES) taking place in Las Vegas this week, Sprint, who earned the No. 3 spot on Newsweek’s Green Rankings last year, revealed new evaluation criteria for its environmental scorecard. The scorecard is updated annually and is used to guide the design decisions of Sprint's device manufacturers and vendors to ensure that sustainable design considerations are incorporated into the company's entire product portfolio. As of January 1st, the scorecard will require that all phones go through the UL Environment certification process which includes specifications for improving reparability and creating more sustainable packaging.

Sprint is the first in the industry to require this type of certification for its products but hopes that the certification, which it worked with UL Environment to create, will catch on with other cell phone makers. In a press release, David Owens, Vice President of Product Development, said:

“By being the first carrier to require all wireless phones to go through the UL Environment certification process, we expect to accelerate adoption of this standard throughout the wireless industry. We believe adopting third-party certification, and elevating the sustainable criteria around our packaging and reparability, enables us to continue to push the envelope on sustainable product design and to drive more eco-friendly product options to our customers.”

Sprint announced its partnership with UL Environment, a subsidiary of Underwriters Laboratories, last year. The companies teamed up to produce the UL-ISR 100 standard - the first ever environmental standard for mobile devices in the wireless industry. The standard will improve packaging by reducing size and volume, changing material composition and structure, minimizing the use of glues, inks, labels and plastics, and pursuing recycled fiber, post-consumer waste, and chlorine-free bleaching for paper materials. Phone manufacturers will be encouraged to design their devices in a modular fashion which will improve repairability and recyclability. In addition to sustainable design and packaging, the standard also provides guidelines for:

  • sensitive materials usage

  • energy management

  • manufacturing and operations

  • impact to health and environment

  • product performance

  • product stewardship

Samsung's Android smartphone Replenish, which runs on the Sprint platform, was the first mobile phone to get the certification. It achieved the highest level Platinum certification and is advertised by Samsung as a phone that helps you "stay connected with friends, with work, and with the planet." Sprint will now require that all phones - including prepaid handsets - go through the UL Environment certification process.

With the rollout of this new standard, Sprint puts itself on target to meet two of its corporate responsibility targets which were announced in May of last year:

  • 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.

*** Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.

Kara is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant with expertise in consumer research and environmental science. Currently, Kara is working as a Graduate Associate on the <a href="http://corporate.disney.go.com/citizenship2010/">Corporate Citizenship</a> team at the Walt Disney Company. She is also a founding partner of <a href=http://besui.com/">BeSui Consulting</a>, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in consumer insights and marketing communications.

Kara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in <a href="http://admissions.rutgers.edu/Academics/AcademicContent.aspx?CAMPUS=New… Policy, Institutions and Behaviors</a>. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from <a href'"http://www.presidioedu.org/">Presidio Graduate School</a> where she is exploring the impact investing space and working to identify new ways to increase access to capital for start-ups and social ventures. Follow her on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/karameredith">@karameredith</a&gt;.

Read more stories by Kara Scharwath