Mobile phones and sustainability: 2020 predictions 🌍


December 13, 2019

Written By

2020 predictions, mobile phone industry will be forced to become more sustainable

As 2019 comes to a close, we can’t help but think about the amount of attention directed at consumption habits, sustainability and the health of our planet this year. From climate protests to finger-pointing, this has undoubtedly been a year that has demanded change.

If 2018 was the year of mobile phone networks and tech brands committing to reduce waste, 2019 was the year we saw their commitments in action. For example, Apple’s 2019 sustainability report confirmed a 35% reduction in their carbon footprint this year, an essential step given the spotlight cast on the negative impact of precious materials used to make mobile phones.

We’ve also seen a fall in mobile phone industry sales. Samsung’s YoY profit drop of 60% in the first quarter of 2019 demonstrates the rejection of the previous purchase model for mobile phones: a new phone, lengthy contract and monthly fee on repeat. Earlier this year we touched on SIM-only deals being a thing of the future and we expect to see this continue.

Yet despite advances in 2019, we know that mobile phone companies will continue to be made accountable for their approach to sustainability. So what does that mean for 2020? Read on to explore our predictions for the next year and why we think the mobile industry will be forced to become more sustainable.

More networks will have to make commitments ✍️

2019 showed us that actions speak louder than words and we saw brands from every industry making positive changes. From Lego creating blocks from sugar cane to IKEA pledging to use only sustainable materials in their textiles from 2020, ‘green consumption’ is reaching every far corner of retail.

Consumers seeking sustainable mobile phone companies will have found networks doing their best to shape up. Take Vodafone, who earlier this year announced a partnership with Fairphone – “a more sustainable mobile phone” – which they say is part of their step towards cutting their carbon footprint by 2025. A very small step in the grand scheme of things. 

We think we’ll see more of the ‘big brands’ and networks doing this by the end of 2020, trying to gain an edge on eco friendly phone companies (like us). Luckily, we have our sustainability model built in  from the get-go. You can explore these here

Keeping up with ethical consumerism 🌐

As part of a global trend of ethical consumerism where action is being demanded of brands, we’re expecting to see more mobile phone companies trying to keep up with the pressure. You may have noticed a change in approach to Black Friday this year, with multiple brands beginning to reject the notion of the day and focus on sustainable alternatives – or not pushing anything at all

While mobile networks are usually top of the list for great Black Friday discounts, we expect to see a shift in attitudes to keep up with a general change in retail in 2020.

Sales continuing to drop globally 📉

As more consumers realise they have the option to hold onto their phone for longer with a SIM-only deal, or to look at refurbished options rather than brand new, we expect sales of mobile phones – even if they are eco friendly mobile phones – to drop again globally throughout 2020.

Market research has shown a significant change in consumption patterns across Western European markets, with 35% of respondents planning to keep their current phone for longer than their previous one. So what does this mean for the mobile phone industry? As consumers, you hold power in your spending habits, so it’s up to brands and networks to offer viable, modern alternatives – which is where we come in. Read our take on sustainable mobile phones here.

Progress in packaging 📦

We have touched on mobile phones themselves, but what about the packaging they come in? Companies globally are committing to making positive changes in packaging. In September, Lush cosmetics launched a store in Hong Kong that is completely packaging free while supermarket giant Waitrose trialled implementing ‘bring your own’ containers in a bid to reduce plastic waste.

As a member of the B Corp family, we package our phones in fully recyclable packaging and each of our phones come with a plant-based, fully compostable Pela case, the world’s first 100% zero waste sustainable mobile case, and we think this will become a trend that is standard across the mobile phone industry in 2020. As much as consumers want eco friendly phones, we’re sure they want eco friendly packaging, too.

Take Apple as an example; in a white paper released on their paper and packaging strategy in 2017, they committed to the conservation of precious resources by using materials more efficiently, “recovering material from products at the end of their life.” An analysis on the packaging of the iPhone 6s vs iPhone 7 found recycled fibres to have tripled, virgin fibres reduced by 40% and plastic reduced by 80%. Can the rest of the mobile phone industry keep up? Watch this space. 

Circular economy: reuse, rehome, redistribute ♻️

We know there is a global mobile phone problem. It is not uncommon for any given phone user to have at least one old phone at home. Yet, the knowledge on what to do with these old mobile phones is lacking and this creates a staggering amount of e-waste (we talked about this in our guide for liberating your unused gadgets).

Here’s a glimpse into 2020: for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, all of the medals will be made from recycled mobile phones. We think this is an indicator of things to come, with new, innovative ways to reuse old mobile phones being encouraged, avoiding wastage of the precious materials used to make them. 

A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation concluded that it would not be possible to reach zero emissions by 2050 without an adoption of circular economy business models, whereby materials are cycled back through the value chain for re-use, meaning a decreased use of energy and resources: “Most companies develop supply chains for delivery not recovery. This means those pursuing circular strategies will need to create an infrastructure that supports reverse logistics.”

For mobile phones, this means adopting sustainable mobile phone technology from production right through to packaging – and means smarter choices by consumers. Read our take on sustainable phone use and keep an eye out for more advances towards a circular economy in the next 12 months. Medals for the Olympics really are just the tip of the iceberg.

At Raylo, we know it is as much a responsibility of the companies that consumers purchase from as it is of the consumers purchasing. That’s why we’re giving you the right tools to say no to the big networks and have an underlying sustainability element to everything we do. Find out more about what we do at Raylo or explore our blog

We hope that more brands around the world give consumers the chance to shop more consciously than they ever have before. It’s all well and good blaming consumers for the dangers facing our planet, however we are only as good as what we know, so exposure and education is key to spreading the message and making a difference.

Business Green hit the nail on the head – “Sustainable consumption extends beyond internal business practices, calling on organisations to engage with consumers to ensure they too make more sustainable choices.” Let’s see how the mobile phone industry responds in 2020.