Smartphone Sustainability Gaining Traction

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Each OEM has its own vision and approach toward sustainability; Apple’s vision seems to be clearer than its competition

Going by a recent report by Counterpoint, smartphone original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are slowly, but positively, following sustainable practices, with Apple and Samsung standing out as leaders with their circular approach. The report pointed out that OEMs’ tie-ups with local sustainability partners have increased, leading to circular initiatives across geographies. Such initiatives need to grow at a faster rate, in order to be in consonance with the volumes of new smartphones being shipped each year.

Counterpoint Research’s ‘Smartphones and Circular Economy: Creating a Sustainable Future’ report dug deep into the sustainability domain of these electronics manufacturers and assessed how well the OEM is reducing its impact on the environment by reusing materials, recycling devices, and minimizing waste at each stage, from the design of the smartphone, processing chips, and packaging to power consumption. Its scorecard included a robust metric system that evaluated the top five smartphone OEMs globally.

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The report also touched upon the corporate-level initiatives, progress on carbon neutrality, and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, i.e., to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (one of the 17 SDGs adopted by the United Nations).

It must be noted that the production of a smartphone is the most vital of the stages because it is responsible for about 80% of the total carbon footprint in its life cycle. Consequently, OEMs have concentrated on and advertised this aspect the most. As per the report, newly sourced materials are being replaced with eco-friendly components, while biodegradable and eco-friendly packaging is the norm now. Even water-saving mechanisms are being adhered to in the entire manufacturing ecosystem.

Coming to usage, most consumer durable brands inherently work towards motivating consumers to replace their devices with newer, more technologically enhanced versions. But due to sustainability efforts, OEMs have to maintain a balance between enticing the consumer and saving the environment. The report noted that Chinese leaders like OPPO, Xiaomi, and, vivo are consistently trying to improve battery life and energy efficiency.

At the end of a smartphone’s life, OEMs have a lot to do when it comes to reclaiming these. Getting pre-owned smartphones back into the system is needed to handle them sustainably. “They need to be repaired/refurbished for reuse or recycled responsibly to complete the circular loop. The main objective here is to reduce e-waste,” mentioned the report.

Notably, the global refurbished market has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. In 2021, the market grew 15% YoY and shows promise to grow further in the coming years. Carriers and retail refurbishment players are growing but OEM initiatives on reclamation, refurbishment, and e-waste reduction are quite limited.

The report hinted that sustainability and its different aspects, initiatives and players can be broken down into many sectors with varying opportunities. It said, “The benefits for the environment compound when the industry and government take steps in the right direction.” Counterpoint opined that OEMs already have a name for themselves, but their sustainability initiatives would either make or break their perception in the near future.

Counterpoint Technology Market Research is a global research firm specializing in products in the TMT (technology, media and telecom) industry.


 

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