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Product Life Cycle

Materiality Assessment Topic: Product Design: Energy Efficiency, Product Recycling/Reuse | Global Reporting Initiative G4 Indicators: EN27, EN28

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

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 2015, approximately 7.3 million cell phones were reused or recycled through AT&T.
  • 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 works with our community of suppliers, customers and community groups to improve its sustainable performance.

Informing Our Customers/Design

It’s easy for customers to compare products on attributes such as cost, technology and appearance. But it’s harder for them to gauge the environmental aspects of a phone, which can encompass everything from how it was manufactured and shipped to how easy it is to recycle. That’s why we developed the AT&T Eco-Rating system: A rating system that provides customers an easy way to understand the environmental – and now social – factors associated with their devices.

Announced during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show, AT&T took our established mobile device eco-rating system a step further with the implementation of Eco-Rating 2.0. The refreshed eco-ratings offer consumers a look into the environmental and social profiles of their AT&T-branded mobile devices. A device is assessed on 20 criteria to determine how it stacks up on our 1-5 star scale. Consumers can find a device’s eco-rating icon on the package, in-store or online.

The system addresses five environmental attributes using various performance criteria. Device and accessory manufacturers evaluate their products against these attributes, assign 1–5 star consumer labels and submit their assessments, which we review to confirm reported data. The composite score — featured in both online and in-store collateral — is based on criteria comprising:

  • 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

The updated eco-ratings system is a fulfillment of the commitment AT&T made to update eco-ratings to keep top scores achievable, but also innovative and aspirational. With Eco-Rating 2.0, AT&T recognizes today’s shifting technology and sustainability landscapes.

The eco-rating assessment helps drive innovation across our mobile device portfolio by encouraging manufacturers to build more sustainable devices. At AT&T, we want our suppliers to develop and create devices that incorporate good sustainability practices and take into account important social issues. AT&T’s eco-ratings have helped consumers better understand the sustainability implications of the devices they select since the labels first appeared on AT&T-branded postpaid devices in 2012.

We developed the system in collaboration with BSR, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability. When we launched, we were excited to empower consumers, but we’ve also found that the system is driving innovation as we work with manufacturers to continuously improve performance. Rather than focusing on a single device or environmental attribute, it helps us gain a holistic view of our entire portfolio across its life cycle — 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 3.9.


Packaging is a key component in protecting and transporting our products efficiently as they flow through our supply chain into the hands of the customer. Packaging also serves an important function in educating the customer on the features and functionality of our products while enhancing our AT&T brand. Yet, the useful life of packaging is brief when compared to the lifecycle of our products. As a result, it is important to consider sustainability in our product packaging to help minimize its environmental footprint.

At AT&T, we are working to improve our product packaging throughout its life cycle, including material reuse and reduction, use of environmentally friendly materials from renewable sources, increasing recycled content and end-of-life recyclability, and improving transportation efficiency. We are beginning to use a life-cycle 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 do minimize the environmental impacts of packaging.

In 2015, we substantially reduced the shipping emissions associated with shipping prepaid phones from the OEM offshore locations to the United States. Rather than packaging the phones overseas, the phones are shipped from the OEMs in bulk and then packaged in the United States. We estimate that shipping phones in bulk minus the retail packaging from overseas production locations and packaging them locally reduces transportation related emissions by 65%.1

Regarding the packaging of the prepaid phones that is now done in the United States, AT&T worked to update the look and feel of the packaging to be more sustainable and customer friendly.  We replaced the circular plastic clamshell with a rectangular paperboard storybook reducing the total amount of plastic in the packaging by 55%. The cubic volume of the packaging was reduced by 30% which enabled us to fit 80% more packages on a pallet. This means that fewer cartons, pallets and trucks are required to transport the packaging, resulting in material and fuel savings and carbon emission reductions. The previous packaging primarily used virgin paperboard materials whereas the outer box in the new packaging uses 100% recycled paperboard from an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper mill of which 35% is post-consumer recycled paper.

These updates to our prepaid phone packaging continue AT&T’s initiatives towards more environmentally friendly packaging while protecting and showcasing our products and enhancing our brand.

Customer Use

From wearables that support a healthy lifestyle to applications that connect people of all abilities to the world around them, our products and services enable consumers to harness the power of technology to live their lives more productively and efficiently. Whether it’s by reducing energy use, helping to care for a loved one through products such as AT&T Digital Life, or using applications that enable access to the burgeoning sharing economy such as connected car, customers’ devices serve as the nerve center for all these opportunities.

We also strive to engage our customers about sustainability at EcoSpace, an award-winning online hub that serves as a one-stop consumer site for sustainability information. Designed to motivate customers to participate in AT&T’s sustainability efforts such as paperless billing and phone recycling, AT&T EcoSpace also showcases eco-ratings for devices and accessories, as well as information on initiatives such as It Can Wait®, support for the military and our commitment to education. 

Energy Efficiency

AT&T is committed to exploring with its suppliers 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 life cycle 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 a battery’s standby and usage time.

Today, AT&T serves nearly 6 million total U-Verse video subscribers. In 2013, AT&T joined a consortium of industry-leading multi-channel video providers and device manufacturers to launch an unprecedented Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement that will result in annual residential electricity savings of $1.5 billion or more. Through the terms of the program, at least 90 percent 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.

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 agreement – to which AT&T is a signatory – sets rigorous requirements designed to improve the energy efficiency of small network equipment by 10 to 20 percent compared to typical, recently deployed devices.  It covers more than 90 percent of U.S. broadband households – roughly 80 million homes. The new agreement runs through 2017 and is modeled on the successful voluntary agreement for set-top box energy conservation.

Paper Use

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

We know that 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, and our website is a one-stop resource to choose paperless billing and self-service. In 2015, more than 300,000 additional customers opted to receive only an electronic bill, bringing the total number of customers going paperless to approximately 21.2 million by the end of 2015. 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 2015, we purchased 52.3 percent less paper by weight for consumer and business billing than we did in 2010. That equates to a reduction of more than 21 million pounds of paper.  

Additionally, one of our goals is to increase Forest Stewardship Counsel (FSC) certified purchases of direct mail and office paper to 50 percent. In 2015, we ended the year by exceeding our objective with 92.5 percent of our direct mail, paper purchases being FSC certified. In addition, 2015 year-end PCW content goal (by weight) for direct mail was 15 percent and we ended the year at 9.3 percent. We fell short of our 2015 PCW goal as a result of limited paper availability and financial impacts to our core business requirements.

In the 4th quarter of 2014, the United States Postal Service (USPS) launched the USPS Blue Earth Secure Destruction. Through this program, AT&T and other program participants receive receipt 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 from no longer having to move undeliverable mail throughout the country. Instead, USPS securely destroys the piece within USPS facilities. Through 3Q of 2015, the USPS estimates it has securely destroyed over 23 million pieces of undeliverable mail and recycled more than 590 metric tons of materials, equivalent to more than 925 metric tons of potential greenhouse gas reductions. AT&T has been a strong proponent of this program and has led many mailing industry outreach programs on the benefits of this program.

End of Life

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 2015, we collected 7.3 million phones for reuse and recycling, as well as 706,971 pounds of cell phone batteries and accessories.

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 with
  • Returning their AT&T Next phone when they upgrade

When our customers turn in a phone, our goal is to see if a phone can be reused. First, our priority is to protect our customer’s privacy. We offer our customers tips and detailed information on wiping their devices before they return the device at 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.

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

Our old electronics are increasingly holding on to their value at the end of life, and our consumers are seeing a tangible value for their old devices. Over the past few years, we’ve seen more companies — including electronics manufacturers, retailers, network carriers and even vending machines — jump in with recycling programs of their own. We’re excited that consumers have increasing options to dispose of their products responsibly, but our biggest competitor remains the closet or drawer, as the EPA estimates that just 11 percent of mobile devices are collected for recycling.2 We continue to investigate ways to educate consumers and provide incentives for reuse and recycling.

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.

CTIA: To continue the success of package minimization and to reduce the impact of our wireless products on the environment, AT&T worked with CTIA’s Green Working Group to identify and implement benchmarks on environmental stewardship. In 2011, we adopted handset recycling benchmarks that validated our robust consumer takeback program, as well as ensured at least 90 percent of our handsets complied with restrictions on hazardous substances. In 2012 and 2013, we 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 ensures that the two are complementary.

Cell Phones for Soldiers: AT&T and its customers have supported Cell Phones for Soldiers since 2007, donating more than $4.5 million and distributing more than 600,000 AT&T prepaid calling cards to servicemen and women overseas. For the past two years, AT&T volunteers and Cell Phones for Soldiers teamed up to support veterans organizations in Richmond, VA (HomeAgain), Memphis, TN (VA Medical Center) and Dallas, TX (Union Gospel Mission) that benefited more than 2,100 veterans. The organizations received relevant donations of communication tools that will help veterans connect with family members and potential employers, access medical records and use bedside for spinal cord injury patients.

Arbor Day Foundation: AT&T has worked with the Arbor Day Foundation since 2005 to encourage customers to switch to paperless billing in exchange for planting trees. Since the start of our relationship, AT&T and our customers have planted more than 1.1 million trees — enough to offset the emissions of 2,501 cars in one year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

1Equivalencies based on


Updated on: Aug 2, 2016