Product Life Cycle
With extreme weather events associated with climate change impacting communities across the globe, it’s critically important that products are designed with sustainability in mind. To meet the needs of people and the planet, AT&T works closely with suppliers, customers, industry groups and other stakeholders to improve the sustainability of our products and services at each stage of their life cycles. We also strive to help customers make informed purchasing decisions for select products, such as wireless devices.
The AT&T Principles of Conduct for Suppliers outline our expectations for suppliers, covering 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 to sending materials to landfills.
Product Life Cycle Data
|Total number of consumer devices reused or recycled through AT&T1
|Materials from take-back programs reused or sold2
|Materials from take-back programs recycled2
|Materials from take-back programs landfilled2
|Amount of paper used for direct mail and office paper (metric tons [MT])3
|Amount of paper recycled (MT)3
For more information, see our Sustainability Accounting Standards Board Index.
Our Actions & Impacts
In 2022, AT&T took the following actions regarding product life cycle management:
- We engaged with the Cellular Telecommunication & Internet Association (CTIA) working groups to refine the industry standard for used mobile device grading. This initiative aims to promote the extension of product life cycles and reduce waste by building consumer confidence in used and refurbished devices through common tools, technology and terminology around device use.
- We continued our efforts to recover, refurbish and recycle devices. In 2022, we recovered 14.9 million consumer devices, including more than 13.5 million mobility devices.2
The AT&T Eco-Ratings 2.0 system provides environmental and social details about all phone and tablet devices we sell4 so customers can make informed product purchases. When a product is released, its Eco-Rating is available on the product’s packaging and online. This system has helped drive innovation as we work with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to minimize impacts on the environment and help us gain a holistic view of our device portfolio across its life cycle. We collaborated with BSR, a sustainable business network and consultancy, to create the foundation of this system and develop product evaluation criteria and assessment methods, which include:
- Product Review: OEMs self-evaluate their products against 20 performance criteria across 5 diﬀerent attributes, assigning 1 to 5 stars. These 5 attributes are:
- Substances of Concern: Restriction of antimony trioxide, beryllium compounds, extractable nickel, polyvinyl chloride, 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 Policies & Disclosures: OEMs should have a Global Reporting Initiative-informed sustainability report, a conﬂict minerals disclosure, a stand-alone human rights policy or statement, management systems and public performance reporting for labor, occupational safety and environmental impact at assembly and/or supplier facilities.
- Evaluation: AT&T’s Product Marketing team reviews completed self-evaluations to confirm reported data. We annually audit at least 20% of devices launched to hold OEMs accountable for their disclosed information.
AT&T works with suppliers to develop devices that provide the best performance at the lowest possible energy consumption. Our approach includes:
- Supplier Expectations & Requirements: We expect our device manufacturers to align with best-in-class energy eﬃciency practices. This includes analyzing the life cycle performance of the device to estimate energy impacts, incorporating or further developing energy management features on the device and establishing energy eﬃciency goals.
- 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 development of 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.
- Mobile Device Efficiency: Our handset device manufacturers design highly efficient smartphones that optimize battery standby and usage time without compromising user experience.
- Data Tracking & Assurance: We rigorously track energy data and annually obtain independent assurance of select energy figures, including customer product electricity use. This process, which helps us realize continual, year-over-year improvements in accuracy, is ongoing. For our 2022 reporting, S&P Trucost Limited conducted this assurance effort. Learn more in the Independent Accountant’s Report.
We strive to minimize the impacts of packaging through industry collaboration and by assessing key sustainability metrics such as energy and water use, GHG emissions and packaging waste, as outlined below:
- Industry Collaboration: 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.
- Recycled Materials: Since setting out in 2020 to use 100% recycled materials when shipping orders directly to customers, we have transitioned almost 75% of our shipping cartons to 100% recycled content in Fort Worth, Texas; York, Pennsylvania; and Rialto, California—up from approximately 60% in 2021. For 2022, this represents a transition of 2,794 tons of paper used in packaging to 100% recycled content. These locations ship roughly 72% of AT&T’s total direct fulfillment units to customers.
AT&T aims to reduce paper and purchase responsibly sourced paper products wherever possible. We have implemented an enterprise-wide Paper Procurement Policy to reduce, reuse and recycle paper products; continue our role in promoting responsible forest products; and encourage a market that conserves, protects and restores forests. This policy establishes a goal that 90% of total paper consumption for direct mail and office paper will be Forest Stewardship Council- (FSC) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)-certiﬁed. We will also continue to consider recycled fiber content (by weight) and reduce paper consumption in billing. In 2022, 97% of the direct mail and oﬃce paper we purchased was FSC- or SFI-certiﬁed—up from 85% in 2016. We also achieved 6.2% post-consumer waste and recycled content, despite recycled paper supply chain challenges in 2022.3
Paper bills represent a significant opportunity to reduce paper consumption. We promoted online billing, and we reduced the size and weight of paper mail. In 2022, AT&T Communications delivered over 30 million paperless bill statements. In conjunction with other corporate-wide initiatives, we are working to increase the number of customers receiving paperless bills through reminder messaging on printed bills, email communications and pop-ups when customers log in to their online account.
Consumer Electronics Refurbishment & Recycling
Refurbishing and recycling electronic devices contributes to a circular economy and helps create more affordable product options for consumers. AT&T believes all electronic devices should be reused, refurbished or recycled. In 2022, we recovered 14.9 million consumer devices—including more than 13.5 million mobility devices2 and 1.3 million broadband devices—and we strive to continue increasing device recycling and encouraging customers to participate in our efforts.
Customers can return their old phones during the upgrade process or by taking advantage of our trade-in program, which can earn them rewards to apply toward their bill, a new device or accessories. If the device does not have a trade-in value, customers can mail in their device for us to recycle. Customers can also have their broadband internet devices refurbished or recycled by having an AT&T technician remove old equipment during an in-home appointment or service call, or mailing equipment from UPS or FedEx locations. Our approach for managing recovered devices includes:
- Refurbishment & Material Recovery: If possible, devices are refurbished or resold and put back into the marketplace. Some of these devices are refurbished and distributed to students affected by the digital divide, through our partnership with Digitunity. If a 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.
- Protecting Privacy: When recovering devices, our ﬁrst priority is to protect our customers’ privacy. We oﬀer customers detailed information about wiping their returned devices. When we receive a device, we also remove all customer-saved data.
- Responsible Recycling: We require that all U.S. device recycling and salvage vendors maintain an R2 certification. R2 is a comprehensive global certification awarded to facilities that adhere to the R2 responsible electronics recycling standards, which cover areas such as worker health and safety, environmental protection, chain-of-custody reporting and data security.
- Industry Collaboration: AT&T collaborates with peers though the Global System for Mobile Communications Association, which has working groups focused on consumer device and network equipment recycling. In 2022, we also engaged with CTIA working groups to refine the industry standard for used mobile device grading. The goal of this initiative is to scale device reuse through common tools, technology and terminology, ultimately supporting consumer confidence in used and refurbished devices.
AT&T is committed to managing our internal electronic waste in a responsible manner. Device waste is refurbished, resold or responsibly recycled with R2-certified vendors, depending on the device’s condition. We follow the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive and the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive for electronic waste disposal. In 2022, AT&T managed the end-of-life of 14.9 million devices, with more than 13 million devices being refurbished or resold and recycling of more than 1.6 million customer devices.
Our Path Forward
AT&T will continue to take steps to reduce the impacts of our packaging and e-waste, work with our suppliers to lower energy consumption in the production of our products and engage customers in our efforts. For example, recent survey data has revealed that more than one-third of telecommunications customers keep old, unused devices at home. In 2023, we plan to evaluate proactive customer take-back campaigns and roll out a pilot program aimed at collecting these devices and circulating them back into the economy.
- AT&T Eco-Ratings 2.0 System
- AT&T Paper Procurement Policy
- AT&T Phone Trade-In Program
- AT&T Principles of Conduct for Suppliers
- California Energy Commission
- Cellular Telecommunication & Internet Association
- Global Reporting Initiative
- Global System for Mobile Communications Association
- Guidelines for Wireless Device and Accessory Packaging
- R2 Certification
- Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive
- Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive
- 2018–2022 data includes mobility devices, broadband devices and internal AT&T devices. Data (2018–2022) covers AT&T’s U.S. operations. 2018–2021 data has been restated to exclude DIRECTV. 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.
- 2018–2022 data includes AT&T’s U.S. operations.
- 2022 data includes AT&T Communications. 2018–2021 data includes AT&T Communications and DIRECTV.
- Apple does not participate in the program.
Last Updated: 10/10/2023
Related Priority Topics
- Climate Change Governance
- Climate Change Strategy
- GHG Emissions Inventory
- Bridging the Digital Divide
- Connected Learning
- Rural Connectivity
- Renewable Energy
- Energy Efficiency Projects
- Energy Management Platform
- Network Investment & Resilience
- Business Continuity
- Technology Innovation
- Global Privacy Program
- Employee Privacy Training
- Advocacy & Transparency
- Supply Chain Resilience
- Supplier Sustainability
- Supplier Diversity
- Solid Waste
- Hazardous Waste
- Asset Recovery & Sustainability
- Water Footprint
- Water Conservation Efforts