Apple leads the smartphone space when it comes to the overall approach towards sustainability, according to Counterpoint Research’s latest report, “Smartphones and Circular Economy: Creating a Sustainable Future.” The report assesses how well the OEM is reducing its impact on the environment by reusing materials, recycling devices, and minimizing waste at each stage. The report also encompasses corporate-level initiatives, progress on carbon neutrality, and SDG 13 (one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations).
The Smartphone Circular Economy Report Scorecard includes a metric system that evaluates the top five smartphone OEMs globally. Each OEM has its own vision and overall approach toward sustainability. Apple’s vision is leading the way.
Smartphone production is responsible for about 80% of the total carbon footprint in its life cycle. Newly sourced materials are being replaced with eco-friendly components. Top brands like Samsung, Apple, and OPPO have started increasing environmental benefits through their initiatives in production. Not surprisingly, while initiatives are a big step in the right direction, revenue and profit remain the apex objectives.
Getting pre-owned smartphones back into the system is necessary to handle them sustainably. These devices need to be repaired/refurbished for reuse or recycled responsibly to complete the circular loop. The main objective is the reduction of e-waste.
The global refurbished market has grown significantly 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 end-of-life stage is quite complex but one of the most environmentally beneficial if executed efficiently.
OEM collaborations with local sustainability partners have increased, leading to the establishment of circular initiatives across the globe. However, these initiatives need to grow at a faster rate to be in sync with the volumes of new smartphones being shipped every year. Sustainability and its different aspects, initiatives, and players can be broken down into many sectors with varying opportunities. Working together, industry and government have the capacity to guide future sustainability efforts in the smartphone industry.