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Earlier this year, the 2013 Sustainable Brands conference convened in San Diego, California, and to highlight some of the ideas and initiatives represented at the conference, we asked some of the leading business executives in attendance to share with us how their organizations think about and practice sustainability across the board. Read the full series here.
If you are like most people I know, you have a drawer at home filled with used cell phones. At least I hope your old phones are only gathering dust in a drawer and not sitting in one of America’s landfills along with the other 140 million cell phones that end up there every year. That’s 65,000 tons of cell phone electronic waste each year alone, making “e-waste” the fastest growing waste stream in the country. Sadly, this means only 10 percent of the cell phones in America are being reused or recycled today.
Sprint leaders find this unthinkable. This is why we are taking action with the most aggressive cellphone recycling goals in the U.S. telecommunications industry and a program recognized as the best of its kind to help achieve them.
We aim to retrieve nine out of every 10 devices we sell by 2017. Today, Sprint takes back more than 40 percent of phones we sell and has collected more than 40 million wireless devices. While we talk a lot about cell phone “recycling” we actually “reuse” 90 percent of the devices we collect, which also has helped the company avoid more than $1 billion in cost using these remanufactured devices through our insurance programs.
Our recycling initiatives offer a great example of the overall Sprint commitment and approach to sustainability.
- We identify material issues to our business.
- We develop innovative approaches to address them, seeking to involve our customers, our manufacturing partners and others as stakeholders.
- We share the lessons we learn across our supply chain, up and down stream, as well as within our industry so that others may adopt best practices allowing them to operate in a more sustainable way.
In addition to our focus on recycling, Sprint stands out for our work in partnering with manufacturers to develop more environmentally-friendly devices and accessories, creating more sustainable packaging for the products we sell and using less energy to run our network.
Our recycling initiatives have received recognition because they are ambitious, innovative and effective.
One program, Sprint Buyback, offers new and existing Sprint customers credit for hundreds of eligible wireless devices, even if they’re from other carriers. Another program, Sprint Project Connect, enables anyone to recycle wireless phones or devices (batteries, etc.), regardless of carrier or condition. Just bring us your unwanted cell phone and we promise to recycle it responsibly for you. Any benefits we receive from this program go to fund internet safety for kids programs.
While our company doesn’t actually make the phones and accessories we sell, we are devoting extraordinary attention to the part they can play as we strive to operate in a more sustainable way. By 2017, Sprint will have 90% of our suppliers meet our own aggressive environmental criteria.
In 2009, Sprint launched the first eco-friendly phone, the Reclaim and has launched more than two dozen eco-friendly devices since then. The Samsung Replenish, launched last year, is made with 82 percent recyclable materials and it is the first phone in the United States with a solar battery cover.
Sprint is working to create more sustainable packaging. Since 2009, all of Sprint’s phone packaging has been 100 percent recyclable. We will address the accessory packaging next.
The wireless network you require to make a call or connect to the Internet with a device you can hold in your hand needs a substantial amount of electricity. We are making sure that Sprint reduces our network’s impact on the environment where we can.
As we go through major network upgrades, we are recycling or reusing all of our network equipment. We also are aiming to reduce our electric energy consumption by 15 percent, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, and getting 10 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2017.
One of our first endeavors in this space involved working with a local power company near our Overland Park, Kan. headquarters to build a wind farm that will help our company use more sustainable forms of energy. We also have worked with lawmakers on Capitol Hill in creating sustainable energy policy, like when we supported the extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy.
The attention you devote to sustainability affects the perceptions consumers, investors, members of the media, regulators and others have about your company. We know that it can significantly influence corporate reputation.
At Sprint, our commitment and our actions are drawing positive recognition. Our approach to recycling, product development, packaging and energy usage are among the reasons Newsweek has named Sprint the third greenest company in America. No other telecommunications company is even in the top 25.
Done right, we can strike a balance that makes sure we are limiting our impact on the environment, offering products and services to anyone who wants to make greener choices and providing true bottom-line benefits for our company.
At Sprint, we are showing that doing good for the environment is simply good business.
Bill White is senior vice president of corporate communications for Sprint Nextel. In this role, he oversees all corporate communications and corporate social responsibility initiatives.