The issue of sustainability has never been as high profile as it is today. Organisations and individuals around the world are facing up to the ways their activities impact the environment and how they can mitigate their impact – including the mobile industry.
The volume of eWaste generated by mobile phones and other electronics will reach 15.4 million tons by 2020 and 27.22 million tons by 2030 – an annual growth rate of ten per cent.
It is estimated that there are 40 million unused devices in the UK alone and unless more than a fraction of these are responsibly recycled, then the mobile industry’s impact on the environment will continue to grow.
Every new device manufactured generates carbon emissions across the supply chain and requires the mining of precious metals. Meanwhile, the unsafe disposal of old handsets can see hazardous materials released into the environment.
The situation is improving and there have been notable efforts to shift to renewable energy sources, encourage more responsible methods of production, and increase recycling levels. But our industry can do more.
The winner of this year’s Outstanding Contribution to the Industry Award at the Mobile Industry Awards 2020 has made the issue of sustainability the cornerstone of the organisation he founded 15 years ago.
Christian McBride initially viewed the mobile industry as a way to make a better life for himself. He was the oldest of four children in a working-class family – his father was a mechanic and his mother a nurse – and left school at the age of 16.
“There was no silver spoon in terms of education,” he tells TechRadar Pro. “I left school at the age of 16 and a range of experiences from working as a butchers’ assistant to working in a florist. I realised pretty early on that I had sales in my DNA and that I had a desire to provide a good service to people.
“I then started my career within the mobile industry and carved out a bit of a reputation within the traditional distribution sector, supplying mobile phone accessories. It was all new to me, but even so it was clear that these products were becoming mainstream necessities.”
It was the early 2000s and although mobiles were a mainstream technology, they had yet to evolve into the handheld computers that dominate every aspect of our personal and professional lives. The first iPhone was still two years away from launch and the first Android device further away still.
A move to a smaller business in East London allowed McBride to acquire more diverse experiences and grow his entrepreneurial skillset to the point he felt confident enough to launch his own mobile distribution venture with his brother and a friend.
The origins of Genuine Solutions could not be further away from the startups backed by venture capital funding that start out in co-working spaces in Shoreditch, complete with table football and beanbags.
“It was three guys in their 20s, dressed in suits and ties gathered around my mum’s dining room table with their laptops open!” he tells TechRadar Pro. “My mum would be hoovering around the table, telling us to go home!”
The team initially held down day jobs and worked for Genuine Solutions in the evenings. They started out with a storage unit for stock and eventually they were able to move out of Christian’s mum’s living room into new premises.
Sustainability at the heart
The success in the early years laid the foundations and allowed Genuine Solutions to become the socially responsible business it is today. Unlike entrepreneurs that pontificate about how their vision will change the world from day one, McBride is honest about how the focus on sustainability arrived a few years into the company’s history when the team pondered what its purpose was.
“When we launched Genuine Solutions we did so rather selfishly to improve the quality of our lives. But once we had done that, we were like ‘so now what?’ In 2009 we could see what the evolution of mobile was going to do to our environment, and we saw an opportunity to give back and add value [to the industry]. We relaunched as GSUK and that gave us an opportunity to carve out a brand in the marketplace.”
The shift in focus has been phenomenally successful in both commercial and environmental terms. GSUK has distributed more than 60 million units of product and recovered 30 million units that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Every day, the company processes huge quantities of mobile phones and accessories.
There have been nominations and victories at industry and environmental awards over the past decade – including the Mobile Industry Awards. GSUK has also been awarded the prestigious Queens Award for Enterprise.
But one of the accolades he is especially proud of was the firm being named one of the Top 100 best companies to work for by The Sunday Times in 2017: “You can’t manipulate that.”
McBride says he was quietly confident that GSUK would be a success: “[Sustainability] is a huge problem that we’re facing. We have more than 1,000 customers in 50 countries … I know we’re not trendy but we’re on trend. I don’t want to sound like I deserve things, but we’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the biggest brands in the world. Were an SMB, transacting and partnering with the likes of Samsung, O2 and Dixons Carphone.”
There are other ways that GSUK is socially conscious. It has contributed more than half a million pounds to charity – a significant figure for a small business – with McBride himself completing the Three Peaks challenge.
“We reached the top of Ben Nevis with sleet coming in sideways!” he says.
Personal adversity has influenced McBride’s outlook, and he is keen on supporting a range of causes such as medical research, homelessness and unemployment. GSUK also established a service called Recyclewise that allows charities to generate revenues through mobile phone recycling.
There have been numerous commitments by the technology industry to become more sustainable over the past few years. Mobile operators, manufacturers and service providers have all pledged to slash emissions and reduce waste. It’s not just good practice but also good PR.
McBride isn’t upset at the prospect of other, potentially larger, companies stepping on GSUK’s toes – far from it. He says not enough is being done to address the issues at an industry level and welcomes any commitment.
“Of course we are a business and we’re interested [in growth] as much as possible but anyone joining us on the journey towards sustainability is good thing,” he says.
“We’ve seen other organisations adopt similar strategies and it is fantastic to see larger businesses take a stand as they can make a bigger impact.
“But has our industry done enough? Not yet, but it’s awakening to the reality. There are some good initiatives coming into effect, like carbon net zero, but People, Profit and Planet has to be the way forward.
“I don’t think the industry has been [environmentally] conscious enough because we’re so tech hungry. These devices add so much value to our lives so it’s about finding a balance.”
‘This means the world to me’
GSUK is a successful business but McBride knows there is more to life than the constant pursuit of profit. When he’s not at work, he can be found cycling or watching his children play rugby and he has managed to combine his business acumen with a commitment to doing the right thing, earning recognition for the organisation.
Now he’s been recognised himself.
Colleagues and partners were delighted to hear that he’d won this year’s Outstanding Contribution to the Industry Award, speaking warmly about McBride and his achievements. But what did the man himself think?
“It’s incredibly difficult to sum up,” he says. “The last 15 years have been filled with ups and downs, just as it has been for so many people. It’s massively humbling to be recognised alongside so many great people and businesses.
“As an individual or as a CEO, you sometimes don’t get the most gratitude because you are a leader for everyone else, so this is incredibly rewarding.
“This award means the world to me.”
Neil Robinson, Environment and Health Safety Manager, Genuine Solutions
“Chris is an inspirational leader whose main priority is the wellbeing of his team.
“I have worked for Genuine Solutions for some time now and for me there is no other company in my mind that has the team spirit that there is at Genuine Solutions which was apparent when I very first started at Genuine Solutions and has further improved over the years which is led from the top by Chris who is always looking at how we can enhance and improve.
“In my mind Chris is undoubtedly a worthy winner of this year’s Outstanding Contribution to the industry and would like to take this opportunity in congratulating Chris.”
“When I heard that Chris McBride was to be awarded the accolade of Outstanding Contribution to the Mobile industry – after the initial joy that my very good friend was receiving this recognition had passed then there came a sense of relief. Relief because at last so many more people had recognised the depth and breadth of the talent that is Chris McBride.
“I have known Chris for nearly a decade I have seen him work at very close quarters and also been able to oversee from a distance the impact he has had as much on the people around him as the industry he represents.
“As someone who in more than 30 years of senior management across a range of businesses which in broad terms have employed thousands of people and delivered hundreds of millions of pounds of revenue – I simply have never met anyone like Chris.”
SAVE THE DATE! Running for more than a decade, the Mobile Industry Awards represent the gold standard of excellence in the industry. From the boardroom to the grassroots, the entrants represent the best and brightest the UK and European mobile industry has to offer. For its 19th year we’re celebrating the best Manufacturers, Retailers, Networks, Distributors and Dealers on June 24 2021.