Empowering sustainable choices

We encourage our suppliers to reduce the impact of the products we sell, and help our consumers to make more sustainable choices

Empowering sustainable choices

We aim to reduce the environmental impacts of our products and services, and help our customers make more sustainable choices.

We work with both our suppliers (see Responsible supply chain) and our customers to reduce the impact of our products across their life cycle, from material use through to responsible disposal. We empower our customers to make informed choices about which mobile phone they buy and encourage them to recycle devices and accessories when they are no longer needed.

We are also helping our enterprise customers achieve their sustainability goals through our low carbon solutions (see Enabling a low carbon economy) and bespoke services that are improving productivity, for example in the agricultural supply chain (see Agriculture).

Read on to find out more about our approach and our performance in 2014/15.

Empowering customers to make more sustainable choices

We want to empower our customers to make informed decisions about the phones they choose. Eco-Rating helps them do just that, by rating mobile phones based on their environmental and social impacts on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 being the most ethical and environmentally responsible.

Eco-Rating forms part of our retail marketing material and scores are displayed next to selected phones in some of our stores and online shops. It is now available in 11 of our markets: Albania, Australia (through our joint venture), Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the UK.

In 2014/15, we partnered with global telecommunications company Telefónica and sustainable development organisation Forum for the Future to create an updated version of Eco-Rating (pdf, 320 KB). This new Eco-Rating system aims to enable consumers to compare phones offered by different operators through a standardised rating scheme. The new rating has already been adopted by Vodafone, Telefónica and another communication company and is open to other network operators.

The rating is based on a self-assessment process undertaken by phone manufacturers. This includes extensive questions on the environmental and social impact of each phone across its lifecycle – from the mining of raw materials used to make components, to consumer use and disposal. It also draws on the EcoVadis industry supplier sustainability scorecard to take into account how committed the manufacturer is to managing its own environmental and social impact. Responses are validated by external experts and further evidence is requested if needed.

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, which 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.

Retaining, reusing and recycling mobile phones

Mobile technology is advancing 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 conducted as part of our Eco-Rating scheme shows that the biggest environmental impact across the life cycle of a mobile phone is from its production. This is partly because mobile phones are often only used for a relatively short period of time compared with other consumer electronics. Extending the life of the phone through reuse reduces waste and helps to maximise use of the resources that went into producing the phone.

Through Vodafone Trade In, we offer both consumers and enterprise customers in 12 local markets attractive incentives to return used phones and tablets. These include discounts on new devices, charity donations or store credit. Returned mobile phones are refurbished and resold, and in cases where this is not possible we work with specialist partners to separate and recycle the components.

Vodafone Trade In is a good example of how operating responsibly can directly support our business. It gives customers the option to return equipment they no longer need and has a commercial benefit for Vodafone. Find out more about how customers in the UK are using the service to redeem the value of their used devices on our Trade In website. We are exploring further opportunities to put this type of model into practice to reduce waste and maximise the use of resources (see circular economy case study below).

We also encourage customers to return their old mobile phones, tablets, other devices and accessories to us through our other recycling programmes. We raise awareness of these programmes through posters, leaflets, in-store collection points and prepaid envelopes provided with new mobile phones.

In total, we collected 1.15 million devices in 2014/15 through Trade In and our other recycling programmes in 15 markets, down from 1.29 million in 2013/14. This is a very small proportion of the number we sell. However, there are many other recycling options available to customers in European markets. In many of our emerging markets there is limited demand for recycling programmes, as unwanted mobile phones are typically reused by family and friends.

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 impact of the products our customers use, but also to support our business and enhance our ability to deliver more innovative products.

Vodafone is a member of the Circular Economy 100, a global platform of leading companies that are working together to find ways to implement a circular-based economy. Through our mobile phone trade-in 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 met with 19 external stakeholders in the Netherlands, including enterprise customers and political representatives, to discuss potential initiatives that align with the circular economy concept, such as used phone trade-in schemes and ideas for product innovations.