Fairphone, Vivo and Realme have joined the Eco Rating consortium for smartphones, which uses detailed assessments to identify sustainable phones. The scheme, which first launched in May 2021 in 24 European countries with five operators, has expanded to South Africa (with Vodacom) and Brazil (by Telefónica under the Vivo brand).  ­­­More than 150 mobile phone models are now assessed by the Eco Rating initiative, nearly doubling the range of devices rated at launch.

Consumer electronics with short lives, such as smartphones, do not lend themselves well to sustainability and eco-friendliness. According to the United Nations, global e-waste volumes grew by 21% between 2014 and 2019, and a mere 17.4% of e-waste discarded in 2019 was recycled. E-waste is expected to double in 16 years. Practices that extend the circular economy of a smartphone are the need of the hour and the Eco Ratings project aims to address that. Expansion of the Eco Rating label beyond Europe to South American countries, as well as the addition of more OEMs, extends the reach of smartphone sustainability efforts.

Eco Rating addresses a growing call for sustainable products

Sustainability efforts that don’t currently have a clear product tie-in or revenue plan will be a hard sell for OEMs and operators. But the Eco Rating venture addresses a growing call for environmentally conscious and sustainable products from an emergent group of consumers, the Millennials and Gen Z demographics, who are eco-conscious to the point of altering their purchasing behaviors. Companies that address this issue and publicly commit to sustainability are therefore helping to future-proof their brands.

Apple is absent from this consortium, as are two of the biggest smartphone markets – Asia and North America. Asia and the United States recycle only 15% of their e-waste compared to 35% in Europe. Their inclusion is essential for smartphone sustainability efforts. Unless these entities commit to the venture, the reach of the Eco Rating will be limited.

Additionally, some reports claim that the actual rating scores between the various phone models is very similar, muddling the efficiency of the Eco Ratings label. However, the venture is expected to launch in other South American countries including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay, and other regions and countries may not be far behind.