Is Your Cell Phone Sustainable? New UL Standard Answers the Question

The first sustainability standards for mobile phones were released this week by UL Environment, a unit of UL (Underwriters Laboratories). 

They are the first specifically drafted to identify mobile phones with the least environmental impact.

With the proliferation of wireless telecommunications globally, millions of cell phones are being made – and disposed of – every year. The product life-cycle of mobile phones has serious environmental and social implications.

UL Environment is developing a standard (UL ISR 110) for "environmentally preferable" phones through a collaborative process with industry and NGO stakeholders.

They evaluate the materials used to make the phone, the amount of energy it consumes, whether or not energy consumption can be controlled, the network on which the phone operates, packaging, end of life recycling options and other factors.  

The UL standard establishes a baseline level for environmental design and performance, as well as a tiered approach that rewards environmental leadership. Products that demonstrate exceptional performance are recognized with the highest tier of achievement, designated as Platinum Certification.

Third party sustainability standards, such as UL’s, establish the basis for differentiating environmentally superior products and services, enabling businesses and individuals to make environmentally-preferable choices more easily.

"This important milestone provides mobile device manufacturers with a reliable and comprehensive model to design better products for the marketplace," says Steve Wenc, president of UL Environment.

Samsung’s newest line of mobile phones, dubbed Replenish, is the first to publicly complete the UL Environment pilot program; it earned Platinum certification under the interim requirements.

UL Environment’s Interim Sustainability Requirements (ISR) relied on input from a panel of experts. A 60-day open comment period gathered feedback on the requirements from a wide range of stakeholders. The next round of standards development will address these comments with the help of the Standards Technical Panel (STP), comprised of stakeholders such as manufacturers, government entities, non-governmental organizations and consumer interest groups. After review by the STP, the standard will then be considered for publication and voted on.

In addition to announcing the new standard, UL is also releasing a white paper, "The Life Cycle of Materials in Mobile Phones." It details the variety of chemical elements and engineering materials often used to create mobile phones, to help individuals and businesses understand how they impact their environmental footprint. The paper highlights the valuable resources found in mobile phones, including precious metals that can and should be recovered at the end of the product’s life.

Here’s the paper: 

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