Slowdown in upgrades has helped halve mobile phone emissions

Tuesday 31 May 2016
Dustin Benton Dustin BentonPolicy director020 7630

British consumers are keeping their phones for an average of 15 per cent longer than in 2012, reveals a study of eight million O2 customers. [1] The research by think tank Green Alliance[2] shows how Sim Only customers[3] are using their phones for six months longer than they were four years ago, and are responsible for nearly half the yearly emissions of those on 24 month contracts.

The increased attractiveness of using older phones also led to 68% more devices being sent to O2’s Recycle programme, which focuses on phone reuse.[3] Another sign the market is changing is that most second hand phones are now staying in the UK and Europe, rather than being sold onto emerging economies: the study found that 43% of used phones were resold in the UK. Overall, nearly three quarters were resold in Europe.

The study shows that business models based on the previously typical 1.8 year upgrade cycle are becoming outmoded and that businesses will need to adapt to stay ahead in the market.

The report’s findings include:

• Companies need to make it easier for customers to sell on their used phones.
Too many phones end up in a drawer, rather than being resold. Better trade-in apps which assess the value of an older phone and make reselling it easy would help. Similarly, business models which guarantee access to a spare phone would reduce the incentive to stockpile old mobiles.

• The government can make it easier for reuse and longer use business models to thrive.
Requiring mobile phone manufacturers to meet durability and repairability standards would help satisfy customer preference for longer lasting devices.

Dustin Benton, head of energy and resources at Green Alliance, said:
“Data from eight million mobile customers show that people want their phones to last longer. Rather than lament the slowing pace of upgrades, more companies should adapt to these preferences. And governments should help them: we need new rules that make sure phones are built to last, to protect consumers and the environment from the unnecessary costs of premature obsolescence.”

Ronan Dunne, chief executive of O2, said:
“Sustainability has always been an issue we take seriously at O2, and is a key driver behind our leadership on initiatives from SIM-only and product leasing to O2 Recycle. For me, moving towards a more circular economy isn’t just about doing the right thing. It’s right for our customers and makes good business sense. I’m delighted that Green Alliance’s research using our data has confirmed the value of more circular business models, and would challenge other companies to consider how they might also adopt more sustainable business propositions.”

[1] The end of the upgrade? How O2 is adapting to a more circular mobile market will be available from Tuesday 31 May on Green Alliance’s website at
[2] Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. Founded in 1979 “to inject an environmental perspective into the political life of Britain” we have been inspiring and influencing change for over 35 years.
[3] The report analyses two programmes over a four year period: O2 Recycle and Sim Only, originally launched as Simplicity. Through its Recycle programme O2 buys old phones from customers and prepares them for resale. O2’s Sim Only programme provides a mobile phone service without an incentive to purchase a new phone.

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