Product Life Cycle
Reviewing a product's full life cycle can provide a holistic view of its environmental impact.
Our products, services and media productions can 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.
Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
|Total number of consumer devices reused or recycled through AT&T12||28M+||29M+||30M+||24M+||21M+|
|Materials from take-back programs reused or sold2||82.8%||74.3%||79.2%||72.0%||87%|
|Materials from take-back programs recycled2||17.2%||25.7%||20.8%||28.0%||13%|
|Materials from take-back programs landfilled2||0%||0%||0%||0%||0%|
|Amount of paper used for direct mail and office paper (metric tons [MT])3||27,628||13,762||16,353||12,588||10,624|
|Amount of paper recycled (MT)3||3,274||1,345||1,661||1,137||931|
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, which cover topics such as eliminating wasteful practices, increasing energy efficiency, decreasing 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. We collaborated with BSR to create the foundation of the program and develop product evaluation criteria and assessment methods. We also created a checklist for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to self-rate their product performance.
The Eco-Ratings 2.0 system drives innovation as we work with OEMs to continually 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 for review to conﬁrm reported data.
The 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 standards.
- End of life & recycling: Assurance that batteries are readily removable, the device is easily disassembled by a recycler, and the device contains recyclable materials equal to or greater than 65% of its mass.
- Environmentally & socially responsible manufacturing: OEMs should have a Global Reporting Initiative 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.
We evaluated the Eco-Ratings 2.0 program and market trends in 2019 to develop the structure for Eco-Ratings 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 2021, we initiated a collaboration with OEMs to enhance the program’s impact and gather feedback about our new processes. We are still in the process of determining the best pathway to Eco-Ratings 3.0 and considering third-party standards and other ways to partner with OEMs. We will continue these efforts into 2022.
AT&T is committed to working with our suppliers to develop devices that provide the best performance at the lowest possible energy consumption. For example, our handset device manufacturers are designing smartphones to be highly eﬃcient without compromising user experience. This includes features that optimize battery standby and usage time.
Our suppliers are encouraged to be TL9000 certified, which includes sustainability requirements related to design and life cycle models. In 2021, AT&T contributed to the most current TL9000 standard, strengthening requirements around sustainability. We recommended that products be designed with the end of life in mind and with a hierarchical focus on reusability, repurpose, recyclability and, finally, disposability of any nonrecyclable elements.
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
AT&T measures the energy impacts of our residential internet gateways, and we will obtain independent assurance of select energy figures once data are finalized.
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. 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 up to 78% 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, according to the group’s Annual Report.
AT&T uses 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, since the beginning of our 2020 initiative to utilize 100% recycled materials for direct fulfillment, we have switched 75% of all corrugated packaging in Fort Worth, Texas, and York, Pennsylvania. This represents a transition of over 3,300 tons of paper used in packaging to 100% recycled content. These locations ship roughly 65% of AT&T’s total direct fulfillment units to customers.
We collaborated with CTIA, the trade association representing the U.S. wireless communications industry, and other members of its Sustainable Packaging Working Group in 2020 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 enterprisewide 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 maintain Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certiﬁed purchases of direct mail and oﬃce paper at 90% and to continue increasing post-consumer waste (PCW) content. In 2021, 97% of the 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.3
We encourage customers to utilize paperless billing at AT&T Billing. In 2021, AT&T Communications delivered over 325 million paperless bill statements. In conjunction with other corporatewide initiatives, we are working to increase the number of customers receiving paperless bills over the next 2 years through reminder messaging on printed bills, email communications and pop-ups when the customer logs into their online account.
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 customers to participate in our ongoing efforts. AT&T is collaborating with peers through wireless industry organization GSMA’s working groups focused on consumer device and network equipment recycling.
Between 2007 and 2021, we refurbished or recycled approximately 86 million mobility, 141 million set top boxes and 23 million broadband devices. 12
In 2021, we recovered more than 14 million mobility devices.2 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 here.
- 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 remove all customer-saved data. We also oﬀer our customers detailed information about wiping their returned devices. 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 Internet subscribers. Customers can have their devices refurbished or recycled by:
- Having an AT&T technician remove old equipment during an in-home appointment or service call
- Mailing equipment from UPS or FedEx locations
Vendor R2 Certification
We require all our device recycling and salvage vendors in the U.S. to be R2 certiﬁed. R2 is a comprehensive global certification awarded to facilities that adhere to the R2 responsible electronics recycling standards. 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.
- Consumer devices include mobility devices, broadband devices, home security devices, and DIRECTV and U-verse set top boxes. Set top boxes are included from 2017 through July 2021.
- Consumer device recycling and reuse and product take-back data cover AT&T Inc. U.S. operations only. DIRECTV data is included in 2021 data through July 2021. Note: In July 2021, we completed a transaction with TPG Capital involving our North America video business – including DIRECTV, AT&T TV and U-verse – to form a new company called DIRECTV. In November 2021, we completed the sale of our Latin America video operations, Vrio, to Grupo Werthein.
- Inclusive of AT&T Communications and DIRECTV.
Related Priority Topics
- Climate Change Governance
- Climate Change Strategy
- Industry Collaboration
- Energy Management
- Renewable Energy
- Energy Projects
- Environmental Management System
- Assessments and Inspections
- Workplace Safety
- Scope 1 (Direct Emissions)
- Scope 2 (Indirect Emissions)
- Scope 3 (Other Emissions)
- Informing Customers
- Energy Efficiency
- End-of-life: Consumer Electronics
- General Solid Waste
- Hazardous Waste
- Water Goals
- Water Conservation Efforts