Customers and the environment

We work with suppliers to reduce the environmental impacts of our products and services and empower consumers to make more sustainable choices

Customers and the environment – Our approach

We aim to reduce the environmental impacts of our products and services, empowering our customers to make more sustainable choices. We are also helping our enterprise customers achieve their sustainability goals through our low carbon solutions.

We work with both our suppliers and our customers to reduce the impacts of our products across their lifecycle. Our focus with suppliers is on improving their sustainability performance in sourcing raw materials and manufacturing products. With our customers, we help them to make an informed choice about which mobile phone they buy and encourage them to recycle it when they no longer need it.

Read on to find out more about our approach and our performance in 2013/14.

Empowering customers to make more sustainable choices

We want to empower our customers to make informed decisions about the phones they choose. Vodafone’s Eco-Rating scheme, now launched in 12 markets, helps them do just that.

The Eco-Rating scheme assesses mobile phones on a scale between 0 and 5, with 5 being the most ethical and environmentally responsible. The Eco-Rating scheme forms part of our marketing materials, and scores are displayed next to phones in our retail stores and our online shop.

In 2013/14, we continued to engage with others in our industry to standardise how Eco-Ratings are measured, for example through working groups of the International Telecommunications Union and the GSMA.

In focus: How does Eco-Rating work?

Manufacturers are asked to complete a self-assessment by responding to questions covering the environmental and social impacts of each phone across its lifecycle – from the mining of raw materials used to make components to consumer use and disposal – and the level of commitment of the manufacturer to managing its own impacts, which is reassessed annually. These self-assessments are validated by expert agency SKM Enviros, who requests further evidence if needed.

Eco-Rating is now available in Albania, Australia (through our joint venture), Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and is being launched in the UK in 2014. In 2013/14, we launched a new consumer website on Eco-Rating, which includes a quiz to raise awareness.

The scheme has received support from NGOs such as Planet Ark which endorsed the launch of Vodafone’s Eco-Rating in Australia, and the social enterprise Fairphone has used it in the development of an environmentally and socially fairer phone.

For more on how we are working with suppliers to reduce the impacts of mobile phones and other devices, see Responsible supply chain.

In focus: Promoting Eco-Rating in the Czech Republic

In 2013/14, we ran a campaign to promote Eco-Rating among consumers in the Czech Republic through an interactive website designed to bring environmental and social issues to life through fun quizzes and animations. Those who completed the quiz were entered into a competition to win a mobile phone with a high Eco-Rating.

We also ran a roadshow around the country using a ‘pop-up’ store where consumers could find out more about Eco-Rating of different mobile phones. The store itself was made from a large shipping container and used recycled materials, such as packing crates for seats.

Retaining, reusing and recycling mobile phones

Mobile technology advances rapidly and many of our customers regularly replace their phones to stay up to date with the latest technology, especially in our mature markets.

Research through our Eco-rating scheme shows that the biggest environmental impact across the lifecycle of a mobile phone is from its production, partly because mobile phones are often only used by consumers for a relatively short period of time compared with other consumer electronics.

Through Vodafone Buyback, we offer both consumer and business customers attractive incentives to return used phones and tablets, including discounts on new devices, charity donations or store credit. Returned mobile phones are refurbished and resold. In cases where equipment cannot be refurbished or resold, we work with specialist partners to separate and recycle the components. Buyback is a great example of how operating responsibly can directly support our business. It gives customers the option to return unneeded equipment and has a significant commercial benefit for Vodafone. We are now exploring further opportunities to put this type of circular economy thinking into practice (see below).

We also encourage customers to return their unwanted mobile phones, other devices and accessories by raising awareness about our recycling programmes through posters, leaflets, in-store collection points and prepaid envelopes provided with new mobile phones. We collected 1.29 million devices in 2013/14 through our recycling programmes in 13 markets. This is less than 5% of the number we sell. However, there are many other recycling options available to customers in European markets and in many of our emerging markets there is limited demand for recycling programmes as unwanted mobile phones are typically reused by family and friends.

As part of our efforts to reduce electronic waste, Vodafone is a signatory to the GSMA’s industry-wide commitment to introduce a universal charger which eliminates the need for consumers to replace their charger when they buy a new phone.

In focus: Old mobile devices as a resource

Today’s economy is mainly based on a linear model of ‘take, make and dispose’, where raw materials are used to make products, which customers use and then dispose of when they are no longer useful. This is not, however, an efficient use of resources or a sustainable long-term model.

In contrast, a circular economy is regenerative, or circular, by design, where waste is treated as a resource. Vodafone sees significant opportunities in the circular economy model, not only to reduce the environmental impacts of the products our customers use, but to support our business and enhance our ability to deliver more innovative products to meet customers' changing needs.

In 2013/14, Vodafone joined the Circular Economy 100, a global platform bringing together leading companies, to accelerate the transition to a more circular-based economy, through collective problem solving. See video above on Circular Economy 100.

Through our mobile phone buyback and leasing schemes – which provide incentives for customers to return their old phones for reimbursement – we have already incorporated some of the principles behind the circular economy. In 2014/15, we will be exploring what the model means for mobile devices through a research programme with the Delft University of Technology. This project is expected to help us incorporate these new principles into our business model, from the development of new products and services, to greater reuse and recycling at the end of a device’s life.