All Sprint mobile phones will get sustainability scrutiny

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, the carrier will assess all mobile devices for criteria including materials content, packaging, energy management and modular design.

The Samsung Replenish was the first handset to achieve UL Environment's Platinum certification

For Sprint, it is no longer enough that some mobile phones and handsets have been vetted for the sustainability of their materials and packaging.

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, the company is now subjecting all of the devices it offers on its wireless services to the environmental sustainability certification process that it has developed with UL Environment.

Sprint pioneered this approach with the Samsung Replenish (pictured at the right). The standard it has developed with UL Environment looks at:

  • The sensitivity of materials used
  • How well the phone manages energy
  • The manufacturing process
  • Packaging
  • The manufacturer's product stewardship
  • How the product is put together from a design standpoint, so it can be fixed or updated more easily

Sprint said by requiring all phone and mobile devices to be scrutinized, it will help reduce its own impact on the environment and create a more sustainable operational model over time.

"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," said David Owens, vice president of product development for Sprint, in a statement about the new policy. "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 produce design and drive more eco-friendly product options to our customers."

It should be interesting to see if Sprint has to take a pass on any particular handsets or handset manufacturers as it embraces this policy. My guess is that its business partners have been well aware that this strategy was coming down the pike, so it should be a non-issue. What will be even more interesting to watch is whether or not other wireless carriers choose to take the same stand.

As an aside: I do find it rather interesting that its not all that easy to find Sprint's eco phone series if you cruise its site to evaluate what devices it offers. That could be because it is downplaying eco credentials -- by making all devices more closely conform to its expectations. Still, I would have loved to be able to sort on eco features as a purchasing consideration.

One big theme that I do think will emerge from Sprint's strategy: more modular phone designs. This particular criterion will make a big difference for how mobile devices are repaired and updated over time. Right now, if a piece breaks on most mobile devices -- such as the screen -- the whole thing needs to be taken apart to fix it.

As more mobile devices emerge, the companies that move toward this approach will have an advantage not only in how much it costs them to fix non-working products but in how easily components can be harvested from old devices for future value. With less than 10 percent of all mobile phones currently being recycled or refurbished, there is a lot of potential for revenue and business upside in that area.

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