Like the last post on cell phones I wanted to take a look at phone network operators and see how close I could get to a decision in one day. Also, like the last post, I’m going to start by checking for ethical guides to phone networks. The only guide I could find (besides Ethical Consumer, which requires a subscription) was from The Good Shopping Guide, covering European (mainly UK) networks . The figure below shows their ratings but unfortunately they don’t provide any details behind their scores.
Should you choose Credo?
These are the two best-known “positive-impact” phone companies – Credo operates in the US and The People’s Operator in the UK. They are both Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), meaning that they use existing networks from larger companies – Credo uses the Verizon network while The People’s Operator uses Three.
Credo may be considered by some in the US to be a “no-brainer” best choice from a social and environmental perspective because it donates to charitable causes. I’m all for companies that donate a percentage of profits to good causes, but in this case, it’s good to take a look at the numbers. Their cheapest plan (1 GB of data) costs $70 per month and requires a two year contract. Other MVNOs (e.g., Virgin Mobile and Boost) are half this price while including more data and requiring no contract. Even Verizon, whose network Credo uses, is significantly cheaper. Only 1% of your Credo bill goes to charitable causes – that’s about 70 cents per month with their 1 GB plan. I reckon you’d be better off saving $35 per month by going with a different MVNO and then donating some of that to a good cause.
The People’s Operator in the UK has a similar model, but their monthly charges are more reasonable and 10% of customers’ bills go to charitable causes (voted by customers). Here’s a guide to their company and phone plans – the comments section highlights possible downsides: reliability and customer service.
Bottom line: I like companies that are trying to change things. In the case of Fairphone (covered in the last post) they have done some concrete things to attempt to make the phone industry more equitable. In the case of Credo, I’m not convinced that they are a genuinely progressive company. The People’s Operator makes more sense financially, although you may have to put up with poor service. Also see comments below this post regarding charitable donations from The People’s Operator. Another option in the UK is the Phone Co-op – a co-operative that pays a living wage, supports social and environmental causes, and avoids sneaky tax avoidance strategies.
Glassdoor is helpful for ethical consumerism research
One quick way to check how happy employees are at their company is to look up employee ratings on Glassdoor. I didn’t use this approach when researching phones in the last post because the workers who spend their day down mines or on assembly lines are not likely to be voting on Glassdoor. In this case, it may be useful to see how network employees feel about their company:
Quite often you’ll also learn something that you didn’t know. For example T-mobile has the top-ranked CEO in the US for 2016 and also won these awards:
- Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality, Human Rights Campaign, 2016
- World’s Most Ethical Companies, Ethisphere Institute, 2016
- Recognized as one of America’s Best Employers, Forbes, 2016
The only other mobile network company to receive a “World’s Most Ethical Company” award in 2016 was Singtel in Singapore. In fact they have both been the only winners for three years running.
AT&T’s relentless advertising
It’s always worth taking into account any personal experiences you’ve had with the company over time. For me, the thing that stands out is AT&T’s relentless marketing campaigns – insidious envelopes with “important message” printed on the outside. AT&T really ticked me off when they switched to a flyer that was actually made out of plastic. This was the first (and, thankfully, only) time I’ve received a piece of mail made of plastic. That’s a slippery slope, my friends, and shows absolutely no commitment to the planet.
Controversies at AT&T
When researching companies, it’s often useful to take a look at their Wikipedia pages to get an overview of controversies. Without going into every detail, AT&T has the most “dirty laundry” on its Wikipedia page. Of course, Wikipedia can be helpful in pointing you in the direction of reasons not to choose a company (which you can look up independently) but it’s best not to assume that the absence of information is terribly meaningful.
Carbon footprint of cell phone usage
As mentioned in this post, the carbon footprint of powering your mobile phone is very small – around 3 kg of CO2 per year. Phone use, especially for calls, has a bigger footprint – averaging around 50 kg of CO2 per year, according to a Guardian article. That’s if you talk on your phone for about 2 minutes per day – talking for an hour each day “adds up to more than 1 ton CO2 equivalents per year – the equivalent of flying from London to New York, one way, in economy class”. Shocking! Texting has a much lower carbon cost than talking.
To get a crude idea of the carbon footprint per user for various phone companies I divided their reported GHG emissions by the number of customers. It worked out at around the 50 kg on average, matching the estimate above. The two European companies I looked at, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom (T-mobile) worked out at around half this footprint. Some of the companies that had a higher than average footprint also provide other services (TV, internet, etc.) so that should be taken into account (and I won’t name them because I haven’t done in-depth calculations).
Which phone network is more ethical?
Based on everything above, I’m least likely to go with AT&T and it looks like T-Mobile is a decent option in the US. One way of approaching it is to go with an affordable provider and put the money you save to better use. I’d rather save on money going to the phone company and spend it on good coffee 🙂
Opinions? Please share!