China Mobile goes green

30,000 handsets salvaged so far

By Published on .

BEIJING--China's rapid industrialization over the past twenty years has taken a heavy toll on the country's environment. It has 16 of the world's most polluted cities according to Worldwatch Institute in Washington D.C., and China's State Environmental Protection Administration reports that of half the country's rivers are severely polluted and one-third of its territory has been damaged by acid rain.

The country hasn't taken much action amid the rush to enter the global marketplace, either. The China Council for International Cooperation of Environment and Development, said the government spent $106 billion (838.8 billion RMB) to clean up its country last year, or just over 1% of its gross domestic product, compared to more than 2% invested by more developed countries.

The worsening situation has prompted one of China's largest state-run companies to take action. With support from manufacturers like Motorola Corp., Nokia Corp., and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, China Mobile is leading a public service campaign called "Green Box" that encourages its customers to deposit used handsets, phone batteries and related parts in designated green boxes placed in 150 sales offices in 31 provinces. The company is recycling the old equipment or disposing of it in environmentally responsible methods.

Since it is the world's largest mobile phone service provider with over 287 million subscribers, China Mobile's efforts could produce dramatic results. Although the ad campaign, created by Grey Worldwide in Beijing, was launched in October, the program was initiated last April. In the past seven months, it has collected over 30,000 used handsets, according to Tammy Sheu, the WPP agency's general manager in Beijing. Grey won China Mobile's corporate branding account in a pitch last March.

Three print ads and a TV spot show natural environments like green grass or clear water destroyed by the chemicals in a mobile phone battery. The campaign is also running in out-of-home posters. Media buying was handled by Zenith Media but overall spending was quite low since most of the media inventory was donated by venders like China Central Television (CCTV), the country's state-run national broadcaster.

The campaign was designed "to educate Chinese that used handsets, particularly the batteries, are harmful to the environment. Most people don't know that. The second aspect is the activation message, encouraging people to bring old batteries to the shops," said Yue Chee Guan, Grey's exec creative director in Beijing.

The program also signals a growing awareness within China Mobile, a sponsor of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, and one of China's leading corporations, about the importance of its corporate image at a time when it is looking for investment opportunities overseas.
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