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O2 is making huge strides in using resources more efficiently, but is also working with consumers to do it

Mobile communications firm O2 is thinking big about making its product footprint smaller in order to become more resource efficient.

Owned by Spanish company Telefónica, O2 runs its mobile phone network as well as its retail stores in towns and cities and also online.

One of the ways, it has made its business more sustainable is by offering mobile phones without a charger as part of a scheme known as Charger Out of the Box.

“The beginnings of this started really when people bought mobile phones,” says Telefónica UK environment manager Saul Jamieson. “People got chargers with every phone they bought and ended up with draws full of them. We realised this is daft.

“The mobile industry got together to create one universal charger and then our next step was to remove chargers when people buy a new phone from us. If someone still needs a charger, then they can still get one.

“But our initial research showed that 70 per cent of people had a charger they could use at home. But around 80 per cent of people don’t take the charger in the scheme.”

O2 universal chargerAt the moment, this project has led to 50,000 people not taking a charger and is helping to cut down on the 100 million unused chargers in the UK. Manufacturers such as Nokia are involved in the scheme, and O2 hopes that others will come on board over the next couple of years until it becomes standard practice not to get a new charger with a new phone. Indeed, O2 has made a commitment that by 2015 it will not supply a charger and manufacturers have been supportive of working towards this goal.

But it isn’t just a case of reducing waste from the charger, as there are other benefits too.

“We have been able to reduce the packaging for the phone as we don’t have to put the charger in there, which with the large UK plugs added quite a lot of additional packaging,” says Saul Jamieson.

“As well as this significant packaging reduction around each phone, it also means that we can get twice as many phones on each pallet when they are shipped for us, so this means less packaging there, as well as less vehicle journeys to get the phones to us.”

Another advantage is that the packaging is now designed so that if somebody orders a phone online from O2, it can be put through a letterbox. This means that if a person isn’t in, it saves on additional journeys to deliver the phone or the person having to go and collect it from the depot.

This wasn’t possible previously, as the size of the UK plug would not fit through a standard-sized UK letterbox.

O2 has also made other efforts to reduce the packaging with the manufacturers that supply it with phones.

“We have an ethical rating for phones and one of the measures we have is the efficiency of packaging,” he adds. “We work with the manufacturers to make packaging more efficient and give them a score on this.

“So one of the things we have encouraged them to do is to reduce the size of the instruction booklet, while another is to remove the plastic bag that used to cover the cables, as there was not need for it.  Often customers find excessive packaging annoying.”

Another successful programme has been its O2 Recycle scheme that has given back £58 million to customers that have recycled used phones via its partner Redeem.

Although it fell short of its 2012 target by 30,000, around 289,000 phones were recycled by the project last year.

“We also now have our O2 Refresh tariff which stretches a contract to make the customer keep their phone longer,” he says.  “But if a customer wants to upgrade, then we will recycle the phone for them and put that money towards a new phone.”

O2 is also looking at how its mobile technology can be used for new resource efficient business models. As an example, it is working with schemes that allow communities to work together to share equipment, so if you don’t have a lawnmower for example, you might be able to find a neighbour who has one and is willing to lend it out.

It is also working with car share schemes to help people have access to transport without needing to purchase a vehicle.

One of its most exciting projects is the Telefónica initiative Wayra that funds start-up technology businesses in Europe and Latin America where the company operates.

There are a number of these that are sustainable in their outlook, but one called Provenance (launching soon – find out more at is aiming to be a platform to provide transparency in supply chains, looking at everything from who, where and out of what a product is made.

O2 shopIn its recent Think Bug Blueprint sustainability report, O2 noted that 71 per cent of its energy use comes from renewable sources and it is working towards a 25 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from the energy use of its stores and offices.

So far it has reduced energy use in its shops by 14.2 per cent.

“Our network is responsible for about 80 per cent of our energy output,” says Saul Jamieson. “We are sharing our 4G network with Vodafone so that reduces the energy output as we can share a single mast at one location rather than each having its own as we would have done before.

“We realise that there will be an increasing energy requirement as a result of the roll-out of 4G, so we are working hard to be as energy efficient with this as possible.

“But one of the best things we can do is to work with our customers to use their phones as efficiently as possible. From an O2 point of view, we see that technology can help to provide sustainable and balanced consumption.

“If we help our customers, it is a good thing for both them and us, and helps develop trust in our brand.” 

Category: Retail
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