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Vodacom goes green with eco rating for handsets

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As major telcos begin thinking more seriously about sustainability and their environmental impact on the world, South Africa's Vodacom says it has introduced a pan-industry "Eco Rating" for mobile phones across multiple brands.

The Eco Rating initiative has been created jointly by Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica (operating under the O2 and Movistar brands), Telia Company as well as Vodacom shareholder Vodafone. The group launched the project earlier this year to provide better information at the retail level on the environmental impact of producing, using, transporting and disposing of smartphones and feature phones.

The Eco Rating reflects growing customer demand for more sustainable electronics.

Research from Canada's McMaster University shows that among all ICT devices, smartphones are the most damaging to the environment and although smartphones consume little energy to operate, 85% of their emissions impact comes from production.

Smartphones also have a short life which drives further production of new models and an extraordinary amount of waste said the study's author Lotfi Belkhir.

"At Vodacom, we have always believed that business success should not come at a cost to the planet, and we have made a commitment to halve our environmental impact by 2025," said chief officer of Consumer Business at Vodacom, Jorge Mendes, in a statement.

He said the telco was investing in technology initiatives that can assist in creating a sustainable future while raising awareness of how consumers can help preserve the natural resource base.

"The Eco Rating scheme is one such opportunity to drive transparency for consumers by identifying and comparing mobile devices that reduce negative impacts on our environment today for a better future," he explained.

How it works is a mobile phone device will carry an overall Eco Rating score out of a maximum of 100 to signal the environmental performance of the device across its entire life cycle.

The Eco Rating label will also highlight five key aspects of mobile device sustainability, providing additional information about durability, reparability, recyclability, climate efficiency and resource efficiency.

Around 80 devices have been rated so far, and the total number of devices that receive an Eco Rating is expected to increase every month.

Supporting mobile suppliers include Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, OPPO, Motorola and Nokia, among others. The one company blatantly missing from the list is Apple.

The Eco Rating methodology

Using information provided by device manufacturers, Eco Rating applies evaluation methodology across 19 different criteria to give each device a score out of 100. In addition, the Eco Rating provides guidance in five key areas:

  1. Durability – The robustness of the device, the battery life and the guarantee period for the device and its components.

  2. Reparability – Covers the ease with which the device can be repaired, including mobile phone design and supporting activities that could increase the useful life of the product by improving its reparability, reusability and upgradability potential. A higher score indicates how these aspects are supported.

  3. Recyclability – How well the device components can be recovered and disassembled, the provided information to allow it, and how well materials can be recycled.

  4. Climate efficiency – The greenhouse gas emissions of the device during its whole lifecycle. The better the score here, the lower the climate impact is.

  5. Resource efficiency – Assesses the impact caused by the amount of scarce raw materials required by the device (e.g., gold for the manufacturing of electronic components) towards the depletion of resources; the better the score here, the lower the impact is towards the availability of materials.

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*Top image source: Vodacom.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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