SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Sprint is upping the bar on green phones, and lowering their costs, with the latest phone in its environmental line, the Samsung Replenish.
The phone builds upon the work done on Sprint's previous green phones -- the Samsung Reclaim, LG Remark and Samsung Restore -- containing 82 percent recyclable materials, a 34 percent recycled plastic housing, and no PVC, pthlalates or brominated flame retardants. What's more, the phone, which runs on the Android platform and has both a touchscreen and keypad, carries a $50 price tag and will have a monthly rate that is $10 less than all other Sprint phones.
"The phone basically pays for itself in five months," Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said during a talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco announcing the phone.
Sprint is also launching a new accessory with the phone, a $30 solar charger that takes the place of the phone's back panel. Another new feature launching with the phone is Sprint's Green ID pack, a package of information and services that includes news apps from GreenBiz.com and TreeHugger, and resources on green goods discounts, recycling and local produce.
"Our green devices have sold well," Hesse said, later adding that there was opposition to launching green phones within the company, since market research showed that customers did not want green phones. "I believe, like a lot of things, customers don't always know what they want," he said. "Consumers didn't call up Steve Jobs and say, 'I want an iPad.'"
Although sales of green phones are, as a percentage of overall sales, small for Sprint, Hesse said, they are selling well for their class, which is outside of more technologically-advanced phones like the Evo 4G or iPhone. "They are still profitable for us," he said. The Replenish, for its part, is somewhat in a middle class of phones by itself, since it's not quite on level with the iPhone, but also has more features than more basic and cheaper phones.
Sprint's next goal is to expand its green design criteria to the higher class of phones, which Hesse said has been hindered by the types of screens and other technology they require. "It's more challenging to have these eco-restrictions on devices when you are trying to create these incredible powerhouses," he said. "Everything from energy efficiency to materials...we are asking our suppliers that their entire portfolio gradually move more in this (green) area. We'd like to see more of these capabilities in every device."
Along with making phones that are recyclable, Sprint is trying to do more to recycle phones, aiming to recycle the equivalent of 90 percent of the phones it sells, taking phones by any carrier. The program initially just invited people to bring in their old devices and leave them, but that didn't garner many phones. Now Sprint gives account credits when people bring in old phones. "We started giving them money for bringing phones in and it just increased a lot," Hesse said.
Hesse, though, expressed worries about the future of green innovation in the wireless industry if a proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is approved. "Competition is certainly why wireless has become one of the most transformative industries," he said, adding that competition drives innovation. "Advances in environmental areas in wireless are dependent on innovation."