Phenolic composites are widely used in automobile brake pads due to their ability to have high coefficient of friction, less wear at room temperature as well as at higher temperatures up to about 250 °C. It is capable of accommodating organic materials to replace carcinogenic materials for developing eco-friendly brake pads. Case studies of research works carried out by researchers from USA, China, Nigeria, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Hungary and Indonesia are collected, analysed and presented in this paper. Applications of phenol-based composites having fly ash, bagasse ash, palm kernel fibres, barium sulphate, basalt, flax, shells, alumina, titanium dioxide and zirconium dioxide are discussed. Judicious selection of various ingredients, percentage of each ingredient, results of friction and wear tests, inferences made by world class researchers are presented. The best composition reported through each case study is useful to practicing R&D engineers, researchers and designers to choose eco-friendly materials for developing new brake pads. © 2020, The Institution of Engineers (India).