Sustainable telephone

Insight into how mobile phones are produced – our challenge

In the Netherlands more and more attention is being focused on how products are made. Companies use sustainability labels on their packaging to provide an insight into the impact that their product has on people and/or the environment.

A European survey (pdf) has revealed that 50% of consumers base their product choice on this kind of sustainability label. Energy labels for washing machines or cars, for example, are therefore relevant for many consumers when it comes to making a purchasing decision.

In 2011 various studies demonstrated that the working conditions at some of these suppliers leave something to be desired.

Until recently, however, there was no sustainability label for mobile phones. What is more, analysing the impact of a mobile phone is far from easy, as the production chain is highly complex. Dozens of different suppliers are involved before you can hold a working mobile phone in your hand. Each of them is responsible for a different part of the device. In 2011 various studies demonstrated that the working conditions at some of these suppliers leave something to be desired. Besides such social abuses, however, the production of a mobile phone also has a significant impact on the environment. A huge amount of energy is consumed in extracting raw materials, for example. Moreover, many of these raw materials are becoming increasingly scarce. And using a mobile phone also consumes electricity, of course. Many people charge up their mobile phone on a daily basis.

Eco-score The environmental impact of mobile phones takes on even greater relevance if you consider how many of them there are. In the third quarter of 2011 there were 19.8 million mobile connections in the Netherlands. This means that improving people's insight into the environmental impact of mobile phones is well worth the effort. If we make clear what this impact is, consumers can make an informed choice and, through the choices they make, can encourage manufacturers to take a close look at their production process. The next question to consider is whether a sustainability label will actually prompt consumers to adapt their choices. Introducing a label that is comprehensible and reliable is in any case a condition that must be met if this is to happen.

Vodafone Firestarters @ MVO Nederland on the subject of sustainable telephones. 

Participating in the discussion were Bas van Abel (FairPhone / de Waag Society) and Ronald Velten (IBM). The presentation was led by Ernst-Jan Pfauth and co-host Tim de Gier.