Jan Urbanek
As a Research Analyst, Jan specialises in providing consumer insights on consumer technology in the German market.

Over the past years, sustainability has come to the forefront of consumer behaviour, business decisions and policy reforms in a wide range of industries. This development is increasingly impacting the technology sector as well. For instance, the EU is pushing for stricter environmental legislations for smartphone manufacturers and consumers are becoming more conscious in that regard. In fact, nearly seven out of ten Germans agree that tech brands should develop more green products. With smartphones being at the centre of everyone’s daily life today, smartphone manufacturers and brands need to respond to consumers’ interest in green tech in order to stay attractive in this highly competitive market. In this article, we explore the latest ‘green trends’ in the smartphone industry. 

Embracing sustainable practices

According to Mintel, almost 4 out of 10 German smartphone owners across every age group would enquire how environmentally friendly a smartphone manufacturer is before purchasing a device. In response to this consumer need, big brands are already looking at their production practices in a bid to become more sustainable. Samsung, for example, uses 100% renewable energy sources in the US, China, and Europe. Meanwhile, Apple has pledged to become fully climate neutral by 2030 through low-carbon designs featuring recycled materials, by employing energy-efficient, renewable electricity and the investment in environmental projects. 

Such efforts show that brands and manufacturers are willing to make a change and move in the right direction to make a commitment for our planet – a pledge that should resonate with a wide range of age groups, not just youngsters. Positioning themselves as green tech companies and providing tangible sustainable benefits represents a great tool for brands to increase engagement with German consumers.  While embracing sustainable practices is no longer optional for tech brands, prolonging the lifespan of a device should be at the core of innovations.

Extend the devices’ lifespan

Battery life is the most important feature consumers seek when choosing a smartphone, as it often is a bottleneck to the lifespan of the device. Half of Germans who expect to buy a new smartphone in the next two years rank a long battery life as one of the most important features when thinking about buying a new smartphone. In fact, it is also the feature that Germans are least satisfied with.

In the German market, we have seen a great initiative from Deutsche Telekom and Samsung. Both companies formed a strategic partnership to develop a sustainable 5G smartphone that will be launched at the end of 2022. The phone is said to be easy to repair, with the possibility to remove the battery at home – a feature that has almost vanished in the past years. If this will enable consumers to extend the lifespan of their phones in a convenient and cost effective manner by exchanging the battery on their own, without having to hand or send in their device, it becomes a much more appealing option to extend one’s devices lifespan instead of buying a new device. Simultaneously catering to the growing eco-consciousness and their prioritisation of battery life, such a smartphone is expected to resonate well with German consumers.

Make trade-ins more attractive

The trade with refurbished smartphones and electronic devices has taken off in recent years. In the US, for example, Apple has started offering the trade-in of old devices and selling them on their websiteFor example, the start-up Refurbed, specialised on selling refurbished devices, is experiencing rapid growth since its founding in 2017 and Apple is selling refurbished devices in the US on its website. By doing so, they don’t only do good for the environment – they’re also lowering the price barrier for more price-sensitive consumers. 

The recycling of devices is arguably the most essential pillar of environmental-friendly consumer technology going forward. In order to use material that is 100% recycled, tech brands need to participate more strongly in the circular and trade-in economy. For example, Apple is investing in methods to recover materials like rare earths from used iPhones, e.g. via its disassembly robots. However, so far only a fifth of Germans owning at least their second smartphone have used the option to trade in their old device when they bought a new one. Trading-in is particularly limited to higher-priced devices as these typically provide the highest refund. While there are other ways to feed one’s device into the recycling process, for example via public disposal points, it is still key for tech brands to entice consumers to trade in their old devices to be able to realize their environmental strategies.

One way to do so is by offering consumers more incentives to trade in their old smartphones, even those that don’t offer an appealing refund. Brands could for example incentivize consumers to trade-in their old devices by offering access to exclusive merchandise or accessories or by allowing consumers to display their environmental commitment in public. This can be via filters on social media that unlock once a smartphone owner has accomplished a green challenge. 

What we think

With 6 out 10 of German consumers staying with their previous smartphone brand, Germans can be considered as loyal smartphone buyers.  However, this loyalty is likely to erode if brands fail to deliver on sustainability. Smartphone brands need to build on their existing environmental strategies, strengthen their circular economy and offer eco-friendly devices. This will help keep German consumers engaged and loyal.