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Sustainability and Eco Scores: 5 Mobile Service Providers and Leading Smartphone Vendors pledge allegiance

by David Kerr | May 26, 2021

Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, Telia, and Vodafone have announced an Eco Rating labelling initiative to rank the sustainability of mobile devices

Obviously, the goal here is to flag up manufacturers that are leaders in reducing waste and being more environmentally conscious for those buyers who place significance on this factor.   “Eco Rating will enable operators and their customers to encourage wider rating of phones and demonstrate the demand for more sustainable electronics” according to the press release.  

  • The Eco Rating effort will initially cover 12 mobile phone brands. Launch partners include Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Nokia, Motorola, TCL and ZTE to name a few.
  • Strategy Analytics applauds the operators and device vendors who have mobilized to take action on this important topic. Although it is disappointing to see no US operators in the mix at least initially.

  • 5 main pillars of sustainability will be measured:
    • Durability
    • Repairability
    • Recyclability
    • Climate efficiency
    • Resource efficiency

Strategy Analytics user research around the globe confirms that concerns for the environment and wanting to use brands that are earth friendly will play an important role in smartphone upgrade plans and decisions on which mobile service provider to select.   

  • 70% of Chinese buyers report being very environmentally conscious. UK and US at much lower but still significant thresholds (38%-40%)
  • Two-Thirds of Chinese and 1 in 3 buyers in US and UK report a willingness to spend more to buy environmentally friendly products or services
  • In the UK, 1 in 4 prefer to buy from brands with sustainable business practices.
  • 2/3 of Chinese smartphone owners prefer to buy from brands with sustainable business practices
  • 60% of those who expect to buy a smartphone in the next 6 months value sustainable business practices of brands (across UK, China and US)
  • 60% of in 10 current 5G owners agree with the statement of support for brands with sustainable business practices.

Strategy Analytics report “The Environment and Sustainable business practices in the Smartphone 5G Purchase Decision?” is available in full to clients here.  Reach out me on email (  or LinkedIn if you would like a copy.

In addition to develop ratings and rankings of smartphone and other smart electronic devices in terms of their sustainability, Strategy Analytics believes it is imperative to probe and understand buyer perceptions of mobile service providers in terms of their perceived impact on the environment. In our most recent consumer insights probe, we evaluated this factor in UK, US and China in April 2021.

Mobile Manufacturers are midrange in terms of their perceived negative impact on the environment. Mobile service providers are among the best ranked compared to other industries.

  • Airlines, Automakers and trucking companies are perceived to be the worst offenders by consumers in the three countries shown below.
  • UK respondents are most critical across a range of industries while China has rose colored glasses.
  • Further more detailed analysis on the attitudes and perceptions among those interested in/owning electric vehicles and those yearning for autonomous vehicles versus regular fueled as well as a host of other factors in multiple countries are available to clients of SA.

How do consumer rank operators and device vendors in terms of their efforts to improve sustainability and reduce negative impact on the environment? 

Smartphone vendors and service providers are rated as among the weakest in taking positive measures to improve sustainability.

  • Automakers and online retailers like Amazon are considered to be most active in taking “great efforts” to improve sustainability and reduce negative impacts on the environment.
  • Trucking companies and Airlines receive lowest scores in terms of being seen to are perceived to taking “great efforts” in this regard.
  • It is interesting to note that smartphone makers are tied with operators in terms of taking great measures to improve sustainability. Nevertheless, both trail other industries in the view of consumers.
  • We acknowledge that consulting and research firms like Strategy Analytics are not immune from criticism as seen in the modest 25% score below. Although thanks to Covid-19, we have reduced our travel by something like 70% in 2020 and will continue to prioritize a virtual future.

Mobile operators have been keen to stress that the networks
are only a really minor part of sustainability goals and it is production of devices that are really impacting CO2 emissions.

At a recent networks event Michaël Trabbia, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Orange  made a point of estimating that only a tiny percentage of emissions come from networks and that devices are the major issue! Way to throw your device partners and increasingly big marketing spenders under the bus😊.  I am sure global device vendors are NOT keen to hear goals for elevated levels of refurbished devices by 2025 either!

Manufacturers are perceived as being more of a direct contributor due to consumer awareness of devices in drawers, lots of extra cables, cases and 30-36 month replacement cycle historically.

Operators have negative impacts in more subtle ways which may not be as obvious to consumers.

Leading device vendors will need to up their game on Durability, Repairability, Recyclability for sure but equally they would be well advised to go beyond the operators in promoting their proactive approach to being a trusted sustainable partner.

    • Is Samsung getting kudos it deserves?
    • Can Oppo and other Chinese vendors carve out a niche as sustainability leaders?
    • Which brands are perceived to be leaders/followers?
    • What is consumer awareness of key initiatives?
    • Why the radio silence from Apple?

Concerns for the environment and wanting to use only brands that are earth friendly will play an important role in smartphone upgrade plans and choice of mobile service provider moving forward.

  • Additional research is needed to benchmark specific mobile device vendors (Samsung, Apple, Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, vivo, Motorola, OnePlus etc.) as well as investigate and analyze perceptions about specific mobile service providers relative to best in class competitors from a range of industries.
  • Deeper exploration by sub segments and distinct personae profiles to understand significance relative to other factors in the purchase process are needed. Beyond headline announcements like the Eco Rating labelling initiative
  • Evaluation of specific programs and partnerships and the impact on brand perception and the buyer journey across multiple countries is needed.


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