How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprints for Your Business – The Case of Smart Phones

3 min read

If you’re a startup with a sales team, you might have your first few employees use their own phones to make sales calls, especially if you’re bootstrapped and on a tight budget.

Eventually though, you’ll have to give your team work phones, to ensure that they have the tech they need to do their job properly.

The problem is, smartphones aren’t cheap, especially with the inflationary pressures on our tech supply chains at the moment, and the chip shortage that’s still ongoing.

Also, as your business grows and matures, you’ll have the problem of deciding when and how to upgrade people’s phones, and what to do with the old handsets.

Producing a smartphone creates approximately 81kg of CO2 emissions, according to Deloitte, mostly due to the process of mining rare earth metals and other resources used in components like the battery and speakers.

The last thing you want is your old phones ending up as e-waste, especially if you’re a larger enterprise with hundreds or thousands of work phones, and environmental commitments to adhere to.

Buying your first work phones

If your sales team is growing and you need to buy some phones, but you’re still on a budget, it’s often best to look at refurbished devices.

For most startups, your employees don’t need thousand-dollar flagship phones, and they don’t necessarily need new phones either.

Instead, look for flagship phones or second-tier phones that are about a year or two old, and have been refurbished by a reputable company.

These devices will still feel great to use, and will be able to handle everything a sales rep can throw at it, like calls, texts, emails, and your calendar app.

You can buy refurbished devices from the manufacturer directly. This is the best idea in most cases – Apple for example repairs their phones with brand new parts – with third-party refurbishers, you won’t necessarily get the same quality of repair.

When buying SIM cards for your new phones, ensure to shop around for the best price. If you know that the phones will be in use for a long time, you can save money by entering into longer-term SIM-only contracts.

Remember, you won’t need unlimited data, especially if most of your team are in the office and connected to Wi-Fi most of the time. 15-30 GB should be a plenty-high monthly data allowance for most sales reps.

Setting up work phones

Rather than just handing a work phone to an employee immediately, for security and business continuity reasons, it’s a good idea to set it up for them first.

  • Login to the phone, set a passcode, and record it somewhere secure. You don’t want employees setting up a biometric security method, otherwise you might have trouble unlocking the phone if they leave the company.
  • Set up the “Find My Phone” functionality and turn on GPS, if it’s not already activated by default.
  • Enable remote locking and wiping of the phone’s data, in case it gets lost. This should be in the security settings, along with the “Find My Phone” controls.

Upgrading work phones in the future

As your team grows and time passes, you’ll probably need to buy more phones, and some of the original phones you bought will be reaching the end of their lifecycle.

At this stage, we’d still recommend buying refurbished phones – mostly to save money, but also to minimize your carbon footprint, which your customers and investors will love.

If you have more budget available to spend on phones at this stage, you might like to buy former flagship devices, rather than second or third-tier phones. Or, you might like to buy a phone from the previous year, rather than a two or three year-old phone.

In general, we’d recommend replacing employees’ phones every 18-24 months. This is the sweet spot to ensure that they don’t experience productivity loss due to their phones slowing down, while also avoiding your business having to replace phones all the time.

What to do with old smartphones

Once your business outgrows a certain phone, you need a plan to get rid of it safely.

A key consideration here is information security – the last thing you want is someone getting the phone and accessing confidential information about your business, or your customers.

However, you don’t want to leave old phones in a drawer somewhere either. This also poses a security risk, and it isn’t environmentally sustainable. Old phones can be reused by other people, or they can be recycled to reduce the amount of rare earth metals and other materials that must be mined and processed to make new smartphones.

Before getting rid of a device, you need to:

  • Check to ensure that the phone doesn’t have any important data on it that you need. Ideally, important information will be saved to the cloud, preventing you from having to do this. If there is important data on the phone, take a backup of this information.
  • Disable factory reset protection, if using an Android device. This is a feature that tries to prevent thieves from resetting your phone, by making you log into the “Owner” Google account before doing a reset. You can get around this by logging in when starting a factory reset, or by disabling the screen lock as well as your “Find My Device” functionality.
  • Do a factory reset of the device.
  • Consider using an app like iShredder or AVG Cleaner to flood the device with junk data, then do another factory reset, for extra security. This ensures that no data can be recovered from the phone at a later date.

Now that you’ve completely erased all data from your phone, you have two main options to dispose of the device.

  • Sell the phone through a third-party service. Rather than wasting your valuable time selling phones on eBay, it’s often best to sell them to a company that specializes in buying phones, especially if you have a lot of devices to get rid of. Often, you’ll get a fairly good price if your phones are in good condition, and the process is simple – you just need to state what phones you have, get a quote, and ship them off.
  • Donate the phones to charity. There are lots of non-profits that love smartphone donations. They can often give the devices to people that need them, or sell the phones themselves to generate some cash. If you only have a few thousand dollars’ worth of phones to get rid of, giving them to charity is a great choice.
Tom Paton I'm Tom, and I own and operate We help to make smartphone shopping more sustainable by planting trees when our users upgrade to a new device. I like to write about sustainability issues in smartphone production, and what you can do to minimise your (or your business's) environmental footprint when it comes to buying and using mobile phones.

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