The pair, along with cell phone manufacturers and other industry players, began developing the first environmental standard for wireless handsets last year. The 30 to 40 models Sprint sells each year may not achieve certification out of the gate, but their makers must now go through the process.
"Our hope, based on our own self-assessments, is that (compliance) could be as high as 50 to 60 percent in the first pass," said Amy Hargroves, Sprint's corporate social responsibility manager, adding that the proportion of handsets achieving certification could hit 70 percent by the end of next year.
The ULE certification, UL-ISR 110, will account for 50 percent of Sprint's quarterly environmental scorecard evaluation and covers areas such as energy management, use of sensitive materials, packaging and product performance. Sprint first introduced the environmental scorecard a few years ago, beginning with five basic categories, including RoHS and Energy Star compliance.
Inclusion of the ULE certification requirement marks the most substantial change to Sprint's vendor scorecard evaluation to date. An example of the ULE standard's possibilities is the Samsung Replenish, an Android phone released last year that boasts 82 percent recyclable materials and 34 percent recycled plastic housing, while eschewing PVC, pthlalates and brominated flame retardants. The Replenish was the first phone to achieve ULE certification under the standard.
Although packaging is included in the standard, the issue is important enough to Sprint that it also comprises 15 percent of the company's scorecard. Sprint expects more green packaging -- unbleached paper, water-based adhesives and environmentally friendly inks -- to spread across its portfolio in the short term.
Another area to watch is reparability. In a bid to make phones thinner and thinner, cell phone manufacturers often fuse or embed parts into the main base of the phone, such as an embedded battery. That makes it difficult to recycle and replace.
Instead, Sprint hopes its vendors, which include Samsung, LG, RIM, Kyocera and HTC, will use modular design so that individual components can be replaced, rather than the entire part or phone.
"It's a great piece to bring to the table, from life cycle management perspective," Hargroves said.
The industry has already been moving in the direction of greener wireless handsets, but Hargroves believes Sprint's move will accelerate this shift.
"We really do see having a single vendor say they're going to formally adopt the standard as a requirement can't help but essentially force adoption of the standard across the industry."
Image courtesy of Sprint.