In 2011 Vodafone introduced the eco-score, a sustainability label for mobile phones. Vodafone sees this as an important step in the area of corporate social responsibility within the telecom sector.
The eco-score is determined on the basis of 162 characteristics, such as CO2 emissions, water consumption and the way the raw materials are extracted. It also considers the use of sustainable innovations, e.g. smart chargers that switch themselves off once a mobile phone has charged, as well as the sustainability policy of the manufacturer itself, e.g. in the area of working conditions.
Research into use of the eco-score
Shortly after it was introduced, research revealed that 5% of our customers who had purchased a new mobile phone, had already used the eco-score. What is more, 50% of those questioned said that they would use the eco-score in the future as a criterion when buying a handset.
In the process we needed to make some important considerations. Suppose the best-selling phone has a bad eco-score, doesn’t that discourage customers? And would we run a commercial risk? Ultimately we know that there is a risk, but we believe our customers have the right to transparency. Another consideration was the effect on mobile phone manufacturers. Could the eco-score affect the good relations we have? Will they be prepared to cooperate? And what is our position if they don’t participate? Questions that have eventually been answered at an international level with a clear vision: We want to offer more transparency in the supply chain. When a mobile phone manufacturer does not participate, that will certainly affect the business relationship, both on a short and long term. The result of this vision is that all mobile phone manufacturers except Apple participate in the eco-score.
All our price cards now feature the eco-score, expressed in the form of a number between one and five or ‘not known yet’. The higher the score, the more sustainable the handset. This means that consumers can take sustainability into account when they make their purchase. The initiative therefore fits in well with our Power to you culture, as we are giving the consumer a choice. And this is where both the strength and weakness of the eco-score lies.
How worthwhile is it to provide the eco-score?
We expect the initiative to raise awareness amongst customers, employees and manufacturers. Ultimately, we hope that the label will become a standard. We are discussing this with other telecom companies on both a national and international level. It has now become clear that Vodafone will be introducing the eco-score worldwide and in the meantime we are looking at how we can make it more relevant for customers. Could we perhaps make handsets with a high eco-score more financially attractive? And should we even continue to sell mobile phones that have a low eco-score?
Opinions of stakeholders
In 2011 Vodafone discussed the eco-score with stakeholders. In their view the eco-score sheds light on the most important sustainability issues. We also talked about ways in which the eco-score could be made more relevant for customers. Check the report on the stakeholder dialogue (pdf).
Mariëtte van Huijstee, researcher for SOMO/Make IT Fair:
“Vodafone recently took a number of measures that are in keeping with certain priorities of NGOs. The company introduced an eco-label for mobile phones, for example, which informs consumers about the environmental and social impact of mobile phones over their lifecycle. This initiative aimed at educating consumers is extremely welcome. However, Vodafone also indicated that the eco-score will not be a criterion for selecting the products it offers in its shops. This means that Vodafone is shifting responsibility to consumers and is failing to take responsibility itself for making direct improvements in the chain.”
What do you think about the eco-score?
We are curious to find out your opinion on the eco-score. Do you think, for example, that Vodafone should continue to sell handsets with a low eco-score as long as customers want them? Or would it be better if the sector acted together and demanded that suppliers manufacture products more sustainably?
Take a look at over.vodafone.nl/duurzaam/handige-tips-tools/eco-score for more information on the eco-score and join in the discussion at Vodafone blog.