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Vodafone appeals to Apple and other phone makers to join Eco Rating scheme

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People want to know the iPhone's Eco Rating

The mobile phone Eco Rating scheme launched across Europe is set to roll out globally after the five operators behind the initiative expanded their initial agreement.

However, questions hang over the scheme. With mobile phone makers using built in obsolescence to create mountains of toxic e-waste, will anyone take these ratings seriously? Are the criteria for handset maker judgement too open to interpretation? 

Vodafone says the Eco Rating will become a global harmonised labelling system, giving consumers everywhere consistent, transparent insight on the environmental impact of new smartphones. The system makes it easier to incorporate the environment into purchasing decisions, claims Vodafone.

What's your poison?

Eco Rating was initially launched in May 2021 by mobile operators Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, Telia and Vodafone to provide consistent, accurate information at retail on the environmental impact of each handset’s supply chain.

The Eco Rating scheme was initially launched in 24 European countries, and has since been rolled out to South Africa (with Vodacom) and Brazil (by Telefónica under the Vivo brand). Eco Rating is now expected to launch in other countries including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

At least 151 mobile phone models have now been ‘eco rated’, around double the numbers at launch.

An Eco Rating a day keeps apple away 

Fairphone, Realme and vivo are the latest mobile manufacturers to join the scheme, alongside CAT and Motorola rugged phones, Doro, Nokia, Huawei, MobiWire, Motorola - Lenovo, OnePlus, OPPO, Samsung, TCL / Alcatel, Xiaomi and ZTE. Eco Rating labelling is being implemented across the 26 countries in which the five founders of the scheme operate. 

However, a lot hinges on the methods used to calculate eco ratings. It appears to be a self-administered system using information provided by device manufacturers. Each mobile phone handset is ‘thoroughly assessed’ before it’s given an overall Eco Rating, claims Vodafone. The score - on a scale of one to 100 - indicates the environmental performance of the device across its entire life cycle.

Self administrating scheme 

Consumers are promised that a ‘consistent evaluation methodology equally and objectively across 19 different criteria’ is behind each score. Note: Methodology is the study (the ‘ology’) of methods, not the actual methods themselves. In addition to the 19 - unnamed – criteria, sustainability is judged on five ‘key aspects’:  durability, repairs, recycling, resource efficiency and climate efficiency.

All these qualities could be open to interpretation. Durability measures the robustness of the device, the battery life and the guarantee period for the device and its components. Repairability also covers the re-use and upgrade potential. 

Recyclability is marked on how easily the device components can be recovered and disassembled, which is often a matter of opinion. As are both the ratings for climate and resource efficiency.

The devil is in the details 

The Eco Rating ‘methodology’ builds on industry knowledge and best practice and developed with technical support and supervision from IHOBE (a publicly-owned agency specialized in Economic Development, Sustainability and the Environment), says Vodafone.

The device suppliers participated, setting standards and guidelines drawn from the European Union, ITU-T, ETSI and International Standards Organisation.