Mobile green: What are the criteria for device sustainability?

Stephen Drake IDC FierceBy the end of 2009, more than 1 billion mobile phones will be shipped worldwide. Considering that 1 billion devices shipped has been and will be a yearly occurrence, and the world is now exceeding 4 billion mobile phone subscribers, the idea of mobile phone sustainability has been pushed to the forefront. Mobile phone manufacturers across the globe are increasing their efforts to reduce waste and power consumption. In addition, these suppliers are working closely with a broader mobile phone sustainability ecosystem and are seriously beginning to take on new recycling and remarketing efforts.

IDC has just launched its "Mobile Green: Strategies for Mobile Phone Sustainability" report series, and will be analyzing key efforts by the mobile phone manufacturers and mobile operators. Focusing on the mobile phone manufacturers, IDC has first developed a set of criteria for measuring a mobile phone manufacturers "level of green." Such criteria take on a broad set of factors from packaging to materials, energy, lifecycle management and sustainability. The following details key criteria in which mobile phone manufacturers will be measured.


Reduction of packaging is perhaps one of the initial initiatives of mobile phone manufacturers within the mobile green reduction area that provides a fairly straightforward way to reduce the amount of cardboard used as well as lowering shipping costs. Key measurements include:

  • Is the supplier providing 100 percent recyclable packaging? This would also include the use of recycled contents and the use of fewer color inks.
  • Package reduction which would include smaller boxes enabling more boxes on a pallet. In some cases, this may include multiple devices in one box for enterprise delivery. Such package reduction would lower transportation costs.
  • Eliminating shipping a manual in the box and making manuals available online.
  • Minimizing accessories in the box by eliminating chargers, headsets, USB cables, CDs etc. As standardized chargers and headsets come into play there is less of a need to include these in all consumer packaging and for enterprise packaging reducing such consumer accessories is key.


Arguably, the reduction of toxic materials within a device is one of the most important aspects in a mobile phone manufacturer's green efforts. In addition, the use of recycled materials within the device is also an important reduction criteria:

  • Is the device free of toxic materials such as PVC, Phthalates, TBT, cadmium, beryllium, lead, chlorinated flame retardants, brominated compounds and antimony trioxide? Also, what about the materials beyond the phone? Are the company's accessories (such as the charger) free of toxins?
  • The use of recycled plastics within the phone is also a key materials criteria.


The reduction of energy use by the device itself and the effect a device has on other things such as the amount of electricity a charger uses to charge the phone as well as how efficient the device is against a mobile network:

  • How energy efficient is the device?
  • Power management issues such as battery life and power consumption.
  • How efficient is the battery charger? Does the charger meet EPA Energy Star requirements? How fast can the charger charge the battery? What is the no-load rate (that is how much energy is used when plugged in even though not charging)? Does the phone provide alerts that tell you the device is charged and to unplug the charger? Is there a zero emissions charger? A solar charger?
  • How efficient is the mobile device in relation to the mobile network? What is the level of strain the device poses on the network? Does a particular set of devices have larger infrastructure requirements?

End of life program

Managing the lifecycle of a device is an important component for a mobile phone manufacturer, in particular the end of life program. Criteria considered include the following:

  • Take-back programs. This refers to the physical collection of devices, whether it is via drop locations or mailers made available to return devices.
  • Recycling of the device via a partner or third party.
  • Remarketing for secondary lifecycle. Does the manufacturer have their own or do they work with an authorized remarketing program? Is this a business for the company? Can they make money from this?
  • End of life auditing includes the ability to track recycled devices or remarketed devices to ensure proper disposal or reuse.


As mobile phone manufacturers push forward in their green efforts it is critical for these organizations to set goals and offer reports of their progress while promoting green action to its consumer base. Key efforts here include:

  • Has the mobile phone manufacturer published their Corporate Responsibility Report?
  • Does the company have a CO2 emissions reduction goal?
  • Is there a management position with a sustainability job title?
  • What type of influence does the mobile phone manufacturer have with its supply chain? Do they have membership to key organizations? Are they involved with auditing of partners?
  • Is the company delivering recycling and other green messaging through their devices? Do they have marketing campaigns to encourage recycling? Are they getting information out to the consumers?
  • Does the mobile phone manufacturer provide services to help promote an improved environment such as sustainable lifestyle information, application or services to purchase carbon offsets for flying, or tips, links and content with an environmental focus?

As a billion mobile devices continue to be shipped year after year and users seek to upgrade to new devices faster, the idea of mobile phone sustainability becomes a critically important issue to not only manufacturers of the devices but to those in the broader mobile ecosystem and more importantly to all that consume such devices. Beginning in 2010, IDC will begin to provide competitive analysis of mobile device manufacturers' and mobile operators' green initiatives and further analyze the most critical areas around mobile phone sustainability.

For further information on mobile green please see IDC's report series Mobile Green: Strategies for Mobile Phone Sustainability. Also please see IDC's research around Green IT. Stephen Drake is the program vice president for Mobility & Telecom research at IDC. In this position, he has responsibility for the Mobile Enterprise, Mobile SMB, Mobile Device coverage, IP Communication Services and also contributes to IDC's Unified Communication research. Visit