'Renting' consumer electronics
Sprint has made some solid efforts to reduce their environmental footprint. Last year they were rated #3 on Newsweek’s Green Giants list (PDF here), they have a top rated phone buyback program, and recently made great effort to redesign their billing envelopes to reduce paper waste. Most refreshingly, their CEO, Dan Hesse, frequently maintains that sustainability is a top corporate priority – the kind of priority that doesn’t just feel good, but trickles down to employees at all levels.
According to Sprint, the company buyback program is almost halfway to its goal of re-collecting 90% of all Sprint phones sold by 2017. The system will even take most phones from competitors, and manages to refurbish 90% of them. Although “doing the right thing” matters to most people, easy cash (or discounts on billing) is the obvious incentive to make the effort to return old phones to Sprint. Sprint then benefits by being able to re-sell a certain number of them, and hopefully looks good in the process.
From a sustainability perspective, the plan has real impact on a large scale as it gets consumers into the habit of thinking about their devices as temporary ’rentals’ which get cashed in at the end of their lives, like a used car – real Access Economy thinking! Once consumers learn they’ll get more for their money if their phones are kept in good condition, the system will work even better.
But could there be inspiration beyond cold hard cash that would encourage more consumers to play ball? And what about the opportunity to push the company’s accomplishments beyond “green” and into real triple bottom line thinking?
Here are few ideas to take things further:
Let’s start with the envelope. In conversations with Sprint I was surprised to learn that most customers are currently unwilling to part with paper bills. Nonetheless, Sprint has done a rock solid job redesigning their billing envelope to use far less paper – enough to save the company close to half a million dollars a year as well as make life easier for customers.
But shouldn’t a fiscally and green-minded company’s ultimate goal be to eliminate paper billing all-together? If my calculations about the costs of mailing paper to customers is remotely accurate (see this post), then why not reward folks with a discounted bill for agreeing to go completely paperless? Even if the amount of discount were trivial, say 25 cents a month, there’s a psychological positive when folks find out about it. This contrasts to a psychological negative if folks are dinged with a fee for sticking with paper. However justified, the latter could cost Sprint customers. Why not reward the good in hopes of slowly filtering out the bad? And why not profit while you’re at it?