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Product Life Cycle

Materiality Assessment Topic: Energy efficiency of products; Product recycling/reuse; Hazardous or harmful materials in products (Toxics)

Issue Summary

To make sustainable decisions, customers need accurate information about the environmental and social impacts of the products and services they buy.

Our Position

AT&T strives to empower consumers by providing them with relevant, easy-to-understand information when they’re making purchasing decisions. Customers can use our products and services to manage many aspects of their daily lives — including energy in their homes, and their health and wellness. We provide avenues for people to dispose of phones, accessories and other products responsibly.

Data Highlights

2016 Key Performance Indicators
  • Number of devices reused or recycled through AT&T: approximately 6.98M
  • Number of U-verse STBs reused or recycled: approximately 2.8M
  • Number of STBs refurbished: more than 9M
  • Number of STBS recycled: approximately 2.7M
  • Approximate total number of paperless-billed customers by year-end 2016: 26.6M
  • Weight of paper purchased for AT&T Delivery Innovations: 25.7M pounds
  • Percent decrease in weight of paper purchased for AT&T Delivery Innovations from 2010 baseline: 50.3
2020/2025 Goals
  • 2020 Goal: We will enable AT&T customers to lead more sustainable lives by expanding access to technology, further integrating sustainability solutions into products, and measuring the impacts.
  • 2025 Goal: AT&T will enable carbon savings 10x the footprint of our operations by enhancing the efficiency of our network and delivering sustainable customer solutions.

Click here to learn more about our 2020/2025 Goals.

Targets to our 2020/2025 Goals
In Progress
  • 2020 Target: Collect more than 20 million devices for reuse, refurbishment or recycling by end-of-year 2020.
    • PROGRESS: At the end of 2016, approximately 120 million devices have been refurbished or recycled since 2007. This includes: 58 million DIRECTV refurbished devices (2007-2016); 16.9 million DIRECTV recycled devices (2011-2016); 9.7 million U-verse recycled devices (2012-2016); and 37.1 million AT&T mobility devices (2009-2016).
  • 2020 Target: Provide sustainability information for all AT&T-branded network-connected consumer wireless devices.
    • Comprehensive consumer strategy will provide a roadmap for providing Eco-Rating and/or responsible recycling/reuse information to consumers for wireless devices sold by AT&T.
      • PROGRESS: Since early 2016, AT&T has been collaborating with BSR to develop a roadmap across the enterprise that will provide consumers with information regarding environmental attributes and responsible recycling information for all AT&T-branded network-connected wireless devices.
In Progress
  • 2020 Target: Demonstrate the environmental and social enablement power of consumer devices and solutions to live smarter, healthier and more independent lives.
    • Collaborate both internally and externally to help quantify the environmental and social sustainability enablement impacts of AT&T consumer devices and solutions (e.g., Internet of Things, Digital Life, Eco-Ratings, connected car, education, accessibility)
      • PROGRESS: As AT&T builds an overarching measurement methodology to reach our 2025 goal of enabling carbon reductions 10 times the footprint of our operations, we consider the relevant consumer-facing products and services that will help us reach our goal. Working with our internal business units, we continue to identify the environmental and social benefits associated with specific devices and solutions, as well as their power to enable smarter, healthier and more independent lives.
  • 2025 Target: Enhance network efficiency to enable the achievement of the “net positive” ratio
  • 2025 Target: Deliver customer solutions to achieve “net positive” ratio.
    • PROGRESS: AT&T joined BSR’s Net Positive Project in 2016, a cross-sector coalition that aims to develop practices and tools companies can use to quantify, assess, communicate and enhance their positive impacts on society and the environment.

Our Action

From a product’s inception until the end of its life, AT&T’s team works closely with our community of suppliers, customers and community groups to improve its sustainable performance.

To guide some of our efforts, we set a consumer 2020 goal focused on enabling AT&T customers to lead more sustainable lives by expanding access to technology, further integrating sustainability solutions into products, and measuring the impacts.

Informing Our Customers

It’s easy for customers to compare products on attributes such as cost, technology and appearance. But it’s more difficult for them to gauge the environmental and social aspects of how the devices we sell are made. That’s why we developed the AT&T Eco-Rating system in 2012, and updated it in 2015 with the introduction of Eco-Rating 2.0: a rating system that provides customers with an easy way to understand the environmental — and now social — factors associated with their devices. In 2016, we integrated the Eco-Rating 2.0 information for AT&T-branded devices, including handhelds and tablets, into the buying site, rather than directing employees to a separate portal for this information. This integration makes it easier for customers to access information to help them make better-informed purchasing decisions.  

Under the Eco-Rating 2.0 system, device and accessory manufacturers evaluate their products against a total of 20 performance criteria across 5 different attributes, assigning 1-5 star consumer labels based on how their devices meet the criteria. They then submit their assessments, which we review to confirm reported data. The 5 attributes against which devices are evaluated include:

  • Substances of concern: Collection of data on device materials, restriction of antimony trioxide and beryllium compounds, restriction of extractable nickel, restriction of PVC, phthalates, and chlorinated and brominated fire retardants
  • Environmentally preferred materials: Lifecycle assessment, recycled plastic in housing and device contains recycled metals
  • Energy efficiency and charging: Device charger complies with California Energy Commission (CEC) standards
  • End-of-life and recycling: Battery is readily removable and device is easily disassembled by recycler, and device contains recyclable materials equal to or greater than 65% of its mass
  • Environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing: A Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainability report, a conflict minerals disclosure, a stand-alone human rights policy or statement and policy, management systems and public performance reporting for labor, occupational safety and environment at assembly and/or supplier facilities

We developed this rating system in collaboration with BSR, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability. Upon its launch, we also found that the system is driving innovation as we work with manufacturers to continuously improve performance. Rather than focus on a single device or environmental attribute, it helps us gain a holistic view of our entire portfolio across its lifecycle — from design to end-of-life—and advance accordingly. In fact, our device portfolio average was about a 3 Eco-Rating at launch. Today, the Eco-Rating 2.0 average score of our device portfolio has risen to 4.1.


At AT&T, we are beginning to use a lifecycle approach to evaluate impacts of packaging changes on key sustainability metrics such as energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions and packaging waste. We strive to ensure that the changes made minimize the environmental impacts of packaging. Our areas of focus include material reuse and reduction, use of environmentally friendly materials, increasing recycled/certified content, improving end-of-life recyclability and improving transportation efficiency. Past projects have focused on our prepaid phone packaging and our broadband and network equipment packaging.

In 2016, we expanded our efforts by including DIRECTV product packaging. The “bulk pack” packaging design for our new DIRECTV equipment allowed us to package multiple set-top boxes within a single corrugated overpack box, resulting in an 88% reduction in total packaging materials compared to the traditional “master pack” design. This helped us save 23,134,541pounds of corrugated materials. Additional benefits of the bulk pack include an increase in units per pallet, reducing the number of trips and the transportation carbon emissions by 40%.

In addition, the interior thermoform (plastic) trays from the packaging of new units are collected, sorted, cleaned and inspected for reuse in the packaging of refurbished equipment. Due to the structural integrity of thermoform, these trays can be reused a minimum of 10 times — resulting in a reduction of 10,436,993 pounds of corrugated materials. The entire suite of packaging, both the corrugated box and the plastic trays, is fully recyclable at the end of its lifecycle.

Energy Efficiency

AT&T is committed to working with its suppliers on the development of state-of-the-art devices that provide the best performance at the lowest energy consumption practicable. We expect our device manufacturers to keep current on best-in-class energy efficiency practices such as analyzing the lifecycle performance of the device to estimate energy impacts; using energy management features on devices; and establishing energy efficiency goals. In that regard, AT&T’s handset device manufacturers are increasingly designing smartphones to be highly efficient without compromising user experience, including features such as power-saving designs that help to optimize battery standby and usage time


Today, AT&T serves more than 25 million total DIRECTV and U-verse video subscribers. In 2013, AT&T and DIRECTV both joined a consortium of industry-leading multi-channel video providers and device manufacturers to launch an unprecedented Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement. In the first three years of that program, consumer savings have totaled approximately $1.18 billion. Through the terms of the program, at least 90% of all new set-top boxes purchased and deployed after 2013 will meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ENERGY STAR 3.0 efficiency levels. Starting in 2017, more demanding efficiency requirements take effect.

On April 20, 2016, DIRECTV was awarded the EPA’s highest ENERGY STAR honor, the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Sustained Excellence Award, for its outstanding leadership in protecting the environment through superior energy efficiency achievements. DIRECTV has been named an ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year by the EPA each year since 2013. The award represents a commitment by AT&T to continue the leadership DIRECTV has set as the only TV provider to receive such an award. AT&T has continued to move forward with that commitment, ensuring all set-top boxes procured in 2016 were ENERGY STAR–certified.


In 2015, AT&T joined several other companies and industry associations in announcing a voluntary agreement to improve the energy efficiency of internet modems, routers and other in-home equipment that delivers broadband service to millions of Americans. The Small Network Equipment Voluntary Agreement sets rigorous requirements to increase the energy efficiency of small network equipment by 10 to 20% compared to typical, recently deployed devices. It covers more than 90% of U.S. broadband households — roughly 80 million homes. The agreement runs through 2017 and is modeled on the successful voluntary agreement for set-top box energy conservation. 

Paper Use

Minimizing paper can help reduce pollution, waste and unnecessary consumption of water, energy and land resources. Companies have an opportunity to reduce paper use at several points in their operations, including customer billing.

Billing is an important part of the relationship we have with consumers while they’re using our products and services. We encourage customers to use paperless billing through our website By the end of 2016, the total number of customers going paperless was approximately 26.6 million. Our goal is to continue to grow the number of customers using this service.

Guided by our Paper Procurement Policy, we strive to reduce, reuse and recycle paper products; increase our role in promoting responsible forest products; and encourage a market that conserves, protects and restores forests. In 2016, we purchased 50.3% less paper by weight for consumer and business billing than we did in 2010. That equates to a reduction of more than 20.2 million pounds of paper.  

The Paper Procurement Policy establishes a goal to increase Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)–certified purchases of direct mail and office paper to 50%, and increase post-customer waste (PCW) to 15% (by weight). In September 2016, AT&T transitioned DIRECTV direct mail marketing paper requirements to sustainable paper. In addition, the transition resulted in approximately 6% less paper consumption for this marketing segment. In 2016, AT&T exceeded its FSC direct mail marketing paper goal with a result of 67% FSC-certified paper. AT&T continues to strive to increase utilization of PCW in direct mail marketing paper requirements; the 2016 PCW result was 7%. FSC and PCW direct mail paper utilization results will increase in 2017, as results will include full-year utilization of sustainable paper in conjunction with the transition of the DIRECTV direct mail marketing segment.

In the 4th quarter of 2014, the United States Postal Service (USPS) launched the USPS Blue Earth Secure Destruction service. Through this program, AT&T and other program participants receive receipts of electronic data for undeliverable-as-addressed (UAA) mail pieces rather than return of the physical piece of mail. This program has allowed the USPS to realize tremendous savings by no longer having to move undeliverable mail throughout the country. Instead, USPS securely destroys the piece within USPS facilities. AT&T has been a strong proponent of this program and has led many mailing industry outreach programs about the benefits of this initiative.

End of Life

The EPA estimates that just 11% of mobile devices are collected for recycling.i This is too low. At AT&T, we strive to increase cell phone recycling and encourage our customers to be a part of this ongoing initiative. Because a phone’s usable life doesn’t end after its first owner, collecting these devices makes both business and environmental sense. In 2016, we collected 6.9 million devices for reuse and recycling.

At AT&T, customers can recycle their old phones by:

  • Dropping them off at an AT&T retail store recycle bin;
  • Taking advantage of the Trade-In Program with an AT&T retail associate or online at; or  
  • Returning their AT&T Next phone when they upgrade.

When our customers turn in a phone, our goal is to see if the phone can be reused. First, our priority is to protect our customers’ privacy. We offer our customers detailed information about wiping their devices before they return the device. As an additional protection to our customers, once we receive the device, we wipe it of customer-saved data. If the phone can be refurbished, we do so and put it back into the marketplace. This is beneficial from an environmental perspective and has the benefit of making phones more affordable to those who might not be able to purchase a new phone at full cost. If the phone can’t be reused in its entirety, we take it apart and pull out individual parts that might be reusable (e.g., the camera). The remaining plastics and metals are recycled responsibly. These materials end up in consumer products such as cell phones, PCs and tablets.

Our refurbishment centers perform services ranging from cosmetic parts replacement to full remanufacturing depending on the extent of use and wear on the device. Cosmetic refurbishment involves the replacement of cracked screens and polishing of the outer plastic housing to produce a like-new device. Remanufacturing consists of disassembly, testing and replacement of nonfunctioning parts like cameras and batteries. Devices continue to get thinner, lighter and more complex in their design, which requires sophisticated equipment to disassemble, repair and make them like new.

AT&T is also committed to recycling customers’ electronics from our DIRECTV and U-verse subscribers. In 2016, more than 9 million DIRECTV set-top boxes were refurbished and another 2.7 million were recycled. Since 2007, more than 58 million DIRECTV set-top boxes have been refurbished and more than 17 million have been recycled. Similarly, for U-verse, more than 2.8 million set-top boxes were recycled in 2016, bringing the total number of recycled U-verse STBs to more than 9.7 million.

AT&T U-verse and DIRECTV customers can have their devices refurbished or recycled in several ways:

  • Print off a free shipping label and mail it to our recyclers via
  • Have the technician take the old equipment with them while they are in the customer’s home.
  • In Colorado, customers can drop off old equipment at Goodwill stores (expansion of the program possible in 2017).
  • Return your equipment via the recovery kit provided to customers.
  •  Drop off equipment at UPS locations.

To ensure responsible recycling, our device recycling vendors are R2 certified. The R2 Standard for electronics recycling and refurbishment facilities covers areas such as worker health and safety, environmental protection, chain-of-custody reporting and data security.

Engaging with Stakeholders

In addition to engaging directly with consumers, we work with industry groups and other stakeholders to drive sustainability in telecommunication products and services. This work includes:

ITU: AT&T is the only U.S. telecommunications carrier working with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to develop a common global eco-rating framework that measures the sustainability performance of handset devices. Organized by ITU’s Standardization Sector, the working group includes device manufacturers and service providers around the globe. The rating scheme would empower consumer choice by raising sustainability awareness and ensuring that information is consistent across the globe — so that a consumer in France has the same facts as a consumer in the United States.

MWC Americas: To continue the success of package minimization and to reduce the impact of our wireless products on the environment, AT&T worked with MWC Americas’ Green Working Group to identify and implement benchmarks on environmental stewardship. Starting in 2011, we adopted handset recycling benchmarks that validated our robust consumer takeback program, as well as ensured at least 90% of our handsets complied with restrictions on hazardous substances. In addition, we’ve adopted industry benchmarks for device packaging, covering areas such as printing with non-petroleum-based inks, labeling to encourage recycling, eliminating plastic inserts and trays, and minimizing volatile organic compounds (VOC) in finishes.

UL: Since 2010, AT&T has worked on the UL Environment technical panel to address requirements for UL’s sustainability requirements for mobile phones. This work continues to inform our own Eco-Rating system and helps ensure that the two are complementary.

Cell Phones for Soldiers: A long-standing mission of AT&T is to connect members of our nation's military with their loved ones back home. Initiated in 2004, and expanded through financial support from AT&T, Cell Phones for Soldiers is a non-profit that uses funds from recycled cell phones to buy prepaid phone cards for our service men and women, helping them connect with their families.


Updated on: Jun 21, 2018