Darren Beck: Dialed in to sustainable telecommunications

My conversation with Darren Beck, Manager of Corporate Responsibility at Sprint, was a good one. Beck is tasked with driving innovation while developing one of the premiere corporate sustainability programs in the nation. The position is really quite perfect for Beck who has been able to merge his passion for helping grow companies while advancing education, environment, and social equality. We talked about why sustainability works at Sprint, what they are doing specifically with carbon reduction, their buy back program, green devices, recycling and re-use, creating metrics that matter, and much more.

Probably the most important reason why sustainability is working at Sprint is due to executive support. Dan Hesse, Sprint’s CEO, is deeply committed and this commitment has percolated through the company. Hesse recognized Sprint’s opportunity to play a transformative role in the telecom industry and made it happen.

It’s working. Sprint ranked #3 for the past two years on Newsweek’s rankings of "America’s Greenest Companies," and has been in the top 15 since the rankings were launched in 2009. Sprint was also recognized as the mobile telecommunications sector leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index in both 2011 and 2012.

And Beck and his team are busy helping customers transform the way they live their lives. With 135 million cell phones thrown away each year, there’s a lot of work to do. Sprint has set a precedent by being the first telecom company to set the ambitious long-term goal of recovering 9 mobile devices for every 10 that they sell by 2017. In 2012 their recycling rate was 45 percent so they are half way there.

Something that certainly helps is Sprint’s buy back program that offers up to $300 of instant credit for any eligible device at their over 3,500 retail stores. Sprint is the first major US carrier to do so. And more than 90 percent of the devices they collect are remanufactured to near mint condition. This helps Sprint avoid their #1 cost --acquiring devices to give to customers. And of course, it also conserves energy and resources that would be used to produce millions more devices.

Sprint has also been at the forefront of creating green standards for devices. Sprint and others have worked with UL Environment and created guidelines and the first standards that cover materials use, how much energy devices consume, end-of-life issues, impact on health and environment, packaging, and other issues. (Bonus points for innovations such putting solar panels on the back of devices). The devices are certified basic or platinum. To date, 14 of Sprint’s phones are UL Platinum 110 devices and 23 have Basic certification.

We also talked about Sprint’s greenhouse gas absolute emissions reduction of 20 percent by 2017, the most aggressive in the industry; and its relationship with suppliers to help them build capacity and empower them to build tools that facilitate the transition to sustainability. And Sprint’s efforts to report on metrics that are placed in context to be meaningful — such as the admirable and ambitious goal of collecting 9 of every 10 phones sold. That’s not just phoning it in!