Wireless carrier Sprint, which has pioneered the concept of offering 'greener-than-thou' mobile phone models to its customers, is working on what it is being billed as an international sustainability standard for mobile devices.
The standard is being spearhead by UL Environment, which a subsidiary of Underwriter's Laboratories that is focused on certifying technologies and products for environmental and energy efficiency factors. It, in part, builds on the Eco-Criteria that Sprint created for its own products. The criteria, for example, led to Sprint mobile technology manufacturers offering a recycling bag with their products and it is partially behind the broader push for universal mobile phone chargers and adapters. Sprint approached UL Environment last year to act as a certification body, and the collaboration leading to the potential new standard was born.
Sprint already offers three different phones that it markets as green-ish devices that is developed using its Eco-Criteria. They are the Samsung Reclaim, made up of 80 percent recyclable materials, and the LG Remarq and the Samsung Restore, which contain close to 30 percent recycled plastics in the outer case.
Says Stephen Wenc, president of UL Environment:
"Demand for socially responsible devices is expected to increase significantly over the next few years, and this new standard will provide the basis for the marketplace to identify and select better products with regard to environmental sustainability."
Right now, Sprint is the only mobile carrier involved in the pilot group, which hopes to release a draft specification in the first quarter of 2011. The specification will cover things including raw materials and how they are extracted from the environment, energy efficiency, recycled content, packaging and lifecycle management at the end of life. That last factor is ultra-important because of the horrible recycling rate for current mobile devices, for mobile phones in particular, which have a much shorter life than other electronics products and gadgets.
Ralph Reid, Sprint vice president of corporate social responsibility, says when Sprint rolled out its Eco-Criteria with its manufacturers and mobile phone technology partners, the phase-in was a collaborative process. That is, Sprint didn't dictate what had to be done, but it shared its plans to focus on -- and highlight -- sustainable technologies. He said that once the universal standard emerges, Sprint will decide how to marry it with its own eco-program.
Amy Hargroves, Sprint manager of corporate responsibility, says that Sprint's mobile phone technology partners have been very responsive to its approach, which includes a scorecard for all devices. One of the next things it plans to require for eco-recognition in its marketing materials is the elimination of brominated flame retardants (BFRrs), which Sprint would like to see phased out by 2012.
The final industry standard -- whenever that emerges and whatever it winds up being called -- will be steered by a formal Standards Technical Panel that includes carriers, manufacturers, retailers and non-governmental organizations.
You'll notice that today all of the devices carrying the Sprint eco-label are pretty classic mobile phones. Hargroves says more advanced products will come on board more slowly. "The smarter the device, the harder it is to make it more sustainable," she says.