Our products, services and media productions impact the environment at each stage of their life cycle. AT&T works to understand and manage such impacts, and we help customers make informed purchasing decisions for certain products like wireless devices.
1 Device recycling and reuse and product take-back data cover AT&T Inc. U.S. operations only.
2 In February 2021, we agreed to contribute our North America video business – including DIRECTV, AT&T TV and U-verse – to form a new company with TPG Capital. The transaction is pending customary closing conditions.
TOPIC: Product Efficiency
2020 TARGET: Provide sustainability information for all AT&T-branded network-connected consumer mobile devices.
PROGRESS: Rated 100% of eligible devices.
We reached our target and, in 2020, continued to score 100% of eligible mobile device models under our Eco-Ratings system, which rates products from 1 to 5 stars for 20 different environmental and social criteria across 5 different categories.
TOPIC: Device Recycling
2020 TARGET: Collect 200 million devices for reuse, refurbishment or recycling by end-of-year 2020.
PROGRESS: Refurbished or recycled 229 million devices.
- 113.9 million DIRECTV set-top box devices
- 16.9 million broadband devices
- 26.2 million U-verse set-top box devices
- 72.1 million mobility devices
- 238,000 home security devices
We work closely with suppliers, customers and community groups to improve the sustainability of our products and services throughout their life cycle. We outline our expectations for suppliers in our AT&T Principles of Conduct for Suppliers and WarnerMedia Ethical Sourcing Guidelines, which cover topics such as eliminating wasteful practices, being more energy efficient, reducing total cost of ownership, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, using more sustainable packaging and creating end-of-life recycling alternatives.
Informing Our Customers
Our AT&T Eco-Ratings 2.0 system provides customers with an easy way to understand the environmental and social manufacturing attributes associated with their wireless devices.
The Eco-Ratings 2.0 system drives innovation as we work with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to continuously improve impacts on the environment. It also helps us gain a holistic view of our entire device portfolio across its life cycle. Under the Eco-Ratings 2.0 system, OEMs evaluate their products against 20 performance criteria across 5 diﬀerent attributes, assigning 1 to 5 stars. They submit their assessments to AT&T, which we review to conﬁrm reported data. The 5 attributes against which wireless devices are evaluated include:
- Substances of concern: restriction of antimony trioxide, beryllium compounds, extractable nickel, PVC, phthalates and chlorinated and brominated ﬂame retardants.
- Environmentally preferred materials: assessment of recycled plastic in the device housing and recycled metals within wireless devices.
- Energy eﬃciency & charging: compliance of wireless device chargers with California Energy Commission (CEC) standards.
- End-of-life & recycling: assurance that batteries are readily removable, the device is easily disassembled by a recycler and contains recyclable materials equal to or greater than 65% of its mass.
- Environmentally & socially responsible manufacturing: OEMs should have a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainability report, a conﬂict minerals disclosure, a standalone human rights policy or statement, management systems and public performance reporting for labor, occupational safety and environmental impact at assembly and/or supplier facilities.
In 2019, we evaluated the Eco-Ratings 2.0 program and market trends to develop the structure for Eco-Rating 3.0. The evaluation concentrated on improving the OEM submission and audit processes as well as program performance criteria. Our goal is to support the circular economy through steps such as working with OEMs to increase the use of recyclable components in a mobile device or accessory.
In 2020, we continued to evaluate the current program and industry standards to ensure that the next generation of Eco-Ratings is holistic and impactful. In 2021, we plan to conduct interviews with OEMs to obtain feedback on our new processes.
AT&T is committed to working with our suppliers to develop devices that provide the best performance at the lowest energy consumption practicable. Our handset device manufacturers are designing smartphones to be highly eﬃcient without compromising user experience – including features that help optimize battery standby and usage time.
We expect our device manufacturers to align with 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
- Establishing energy eﬃciency goals
U.S. Entertainment & Internet Devices
AT&T measures the energy impacts of AT&T TV, DIRECTV and U-verse set-top boxes, as well as our residential internet gateways. We also obtain independent assurance of select energy figures. For our 2020 reporting, TruCost assured our GHG emissions and select energy inventory. TruCost’s rigor in this process helps us realize continual, year-over-year improvements in accuracy. Learn more in the Independent Accountant's Report. Independent Accountant’s Report.
Since 2012, we have reduced energy consumption by more than 21.3% per device. Our total customer emissions have dropped by more than 3.2M MT CO2e since 2012, a 47% decrease on a per-customer basis.
AT&T and DIRECTV are signatories to the Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement, a consortium of industry-leading multichannel video providers and device manufacturers. According to the group’s Annual Report, the voluntary agreement has reduced the national set-top box annual energy consumption from 32 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2012 to 17.3 TWh in 2019, a reduction of 46% over the life of the agreement, even as functionality and features of set-top boxes have increased. This 14.7 TWh reduction is nearly as much power as is generated by 5 typical 500 MW coal-run power plants in a year. During the 7 years of the voluntary agreement, cumulative energy consumption has been reduced by an estimated 55.1 TWh, saving consumers approximately $7.1 billion and avoiding 39 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. Also, in 2019 alone, consumers saved more than $1.9 billion and avoided 10.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.
In addition, AT&T is deploying new technologies that reduce carbon impacts, compared to traditional service oﬀerings. AT&T TV is a streaming service that does not require a set-top box.
Additionally, since 2015, AT&T and several other companies and industry associations have improved the energy efficiency of internet modems, routers and other in-home equipment through the Small Network Equipment Voluntary Agreement. AT&T and other service provider signatories served almost 89.2 million residential U.S. internet subscribers at the end of 2019, accounting for nearly 89% of the market. Under the voluntary agreement, the average weighted power of each category of new small network equipment (SNE) relative to broadband speed delivered has decreased by 60%–70% and has declined every year since 2015. The signatories achieved their goal to have at least 90% of new SNE meet more rigorous Tier 2 energy-efficiency levels a year early, with 98.9% of new devices meeting Tier 2 in 2019 according to the group’s Annual Report.
At AT&T, we use a life-cycle approach to evaluate and minimize the impacts of packaging on key sustainability metrics such as energy and water use, GHG emissions and packaging waste. We focus on topics such as material reuse and reduction, environmentally friendly materials, recycled/certiﬁed content, end-of-life recyclability and transportation eﬃciency. For example, in August 2020, we switched to boxes made from 100% recycled materials for direct fulfillment in Fort Worth, Texas. This location ships roughly 40% of AT&T’s total direct fulfillment units to customers. Compared to industry-standard boxes that contain 60% virgin pulp, the new boxes have a lower environmental footprint.
In 2020, we collaborated with CTIA, the trade association representing the U.S. wireless communications industry, and other members of its Sustainable Packaging Working Group to create the Guidelines for Wireless Device and Accessory Packaging. This set of voluntary best practices encourages the wireless industry to reduce the amount of packaging produced and waste associated with mobile devices and device accessories.
Guided by our enterprise-wide 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. Our policy establishes a goal to increase Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certiﬁed purchases of direct mail and oﬃce paper to 90% and to continue increasing post-customer waste (PCW) content. In 2020, 95.2% of direct mail and oﬃce paper we purchased was FSC-certiﬁed – up from 85% in 2016. We also achieved 9% PCW and recycled content – a 29% improvement since the inception of our Paper Procurement Policy.
We encourage customers to utilize paperless billing at att.com/shop/bill-payments. In 2020, AT&T Communications delivered over 350 million paperless bill statements. In conjunction with other corporate-wide initiatives, we are working to increase the number of customers receiving paperless bills over the next 2 years. In Latin America, 73% of our postpaid DIRECTV and SKY customers subscribed to e-billing in 2020, which helps avoid the felling of more than 1,000 trees every month.
End of Life: Consumer Electronics
AT&T believes all electronic devices should be reused, refurbished or recycled. We strive to increase device recycling and encourage our customers to participate in our ongoing efforts. For more information on how to recycle AT&T devices, visit www.att.com/recycle.
In 2020, we recovered more than 10.8 million mobility devices.1 Our 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 att.com/tradein.
- Returning their AT&T phone when they upgrade.
When recovering devices, our ﬁrst priority is to protect our customers’ privacy. When we receive a device, we wipe it of customer-saved data. We also oﬀer our customers detailed information about wiping their devices before they return them. If possible, devices are refurbished or resold and put back into the marketplace. This is beneﬁcial from an environmental perspective, contributes to a circular economy and can make phones more aﬀordable for those who may be unable to purchase a new phone at full cost.
If the phone cannot be reused in its entirety, we extract individual parts that might be reusable, such as the camera. The remaining plastics and metals are recycled responsibly. The recovered materials are used in future consumer products such as cell phones, PCs and tablets.
AT&T is also committed to refurbishing or recycling electronics from our AT&T TV, DIRECTV and U-verse subscribers. Customers can have their devices refurbished or recycled by:
- Printing a free shipping label and mailing the device to our recyclers via www.att.com/recycle.
- Having an AT&T technician take the old equipment during an in-home appointment or service call.
- Returning their equipment via the recovery kit or bag provided to customers.
- Mailing equipment from UPS or FedEx locations.
Between 2007 and 2020, we refurbished or recycled approximately 140.1 million DIRECTV and U-verse set-top boxes and 89 million mobility and broadband devices.
Vendor R2 Certification
To ensure responsible recycling, all our device recycling and salvage vendors in the U.S. are R2 certiﬁed. In Latin America, we have supported the training and certification of 4 e-waste recycling vendors on the R2 Standard. And 3 of those vendors were the first certified plants in their countries, helping raise the bar for the e-waste recycling industry in the region. 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.
AT&T works with Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI), the housing body for the R2 Standard. We sit on SERI’s R2 Technical Advisory Committee, which works to develop standards updates that maintain leadership in the electronics recycling value chain.
Sustainable Media Production
As our industry evolves, we are working to accelerate innovation and shift toward more sustainable production practices by supporting innovative technologies, including LED set lighting and digital distribution software. We emphasize the use of sustainable products such as FSC-certiﬁed lumber and post-consumer recycled paper. And we support waste reduction eﬀorts through donations of surplus food, clothing and materials to local community partners and by digitally distributing scripts and production documents to reduce the need to print. To learn more about our surplus donation programs, read our Waste Management issue brief.
We begin our sustainable production process during the earliest days of preproduction. Supported by WarnerMedia’s Corporate Social Responsibility team and equipped with reporting resources, each participating production designates a person to lead sustainability efforts, engaging all department heads and crew. To plan and measure their sustainability initiatives, productions use common, open-source tools and resources, which are housed on the Green Production Guide site and were developed by the Producers Guild of America and the Sustainable Production Alliance (SPA). SPA, a consortium of the world’s leading film, television and streaming companies of which WarnerMedia is a founding member, is dedicated to accelerating the transformation of the entertainment business into a more sustainable industry.
We also invest in infrastructure to facilitate more sustainable studio operations. Warner Bros. (WB) built the ﬁrst “green” soundstage in the world in 2009 and received LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. This 21,600-square-foot soundstage incorporates a number of green elements, including lumber harvested from responsibly managed forests, materials containing recycled content and a white roof that reﬂects sunlight and features a 100-kilowatt solar electrical system. Stage 29, our soundstage at WB’s Burbank studio, was awarded a LEED Gold rating for notable sustainable elements such as an eﬃcient heating and cooling system, LED lighting and a 100-kilowatt solar array on its roof.
WB, HBO, CNN and TBS were recognized in 2020 by the Environmental Media Association (EMA) – a non-profit dedicated to environmental progress in the entertainment industry – with 18 EMA Gold Seals and 18 EMA Green Seals for progress in sustainable production and 7 EMA Award nominations, including 3 wins for environmental messaging in content.
For more information, see our Responsible Supply Chain issue brief.