The idea of a ‘green’ phone seems to be a bit of an oxymoron. How ‘green’ can something made of hazardous materials, that devours electricity at an alarming rate and is produced and shipped in such a way that it leaves a ginormous carbon footprint really be? The simple answer is: not very. But it’s a question of degree: flying, for example, will never be anything but a quick shortcut to ecological Armageddon. But, if you’re flying anyway, carbon offsetting at least lessens the impact somewhat. Same with phones; they may be environmental cyanide, but at this juncture any saving is frankly a plus. So how do you go about choosing the least-harmful phone?
Greenpeace publish a handy list of electronics companies, ranked according to, well, ‘greenness’. While it can make for depressing reading (out of a possible 10, the highest-ranking company scores only 5.9), it’s useful for those wishing to make an informed choice. Of the mobile companies represented, Nokia scores highest (4.9/10), followed by Apple (4.6) and Sony Ericsson (4.2). By far the lowest score on the entire list goes to RIM (1.6), the makers of Blackberry handsets. Greenpeace bases their score on a mix of factors, including company emissions targets, the energy efficiency of their products and a woollier set of ‘sustainable criteria’. Those of you who doubt Greenpeace’s impartiality, or want a second opinion, can check a similar list slowly becoming available at O2.
It should be no surprise companies are jumping on the ‘green’ bandwagon; aside from the obvious benefit to the planet, it’s becoming big money thanks to dawning consumer consciousness. Greener Mobiles may just be onto a winner with their ‘carbon offsetting’ policy. Put simply, they sell you a ‘green’ phone made from mostly recycled materials (more on these later), hook you up to a tariff and ‘invest in projects that look to reduce CO2’ for every call you make. While it has yet to capture the public imagination, you can bet that any success they have will be copied by traditional suppliers (Orange, O2, T-Mobile, etc.) looking to muscle in on a new market.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how green your supplier is if the phone itself is wasteful. Treehugger and MoneySupermarket both carry regularly-updated lists of the greenest phones available. The bad news is that many of their listed phones (such as the iphone2 or Samsung Galaxy Ace) are not made to last a lifetime. Even if your phone is made from 50% recycled materials (the minimum required to be considered ‘green’) and uses very little battery, chucking it away when a new model comes out six months later has a massive negative impact on the environment. As Treehugger rightfully point out, given our culture’s current obsession with things that don’t last, the only truly eco-friendly phone to buy is a second hand one.
While it’s slowly becoming more accepted, the idea of ‘green’ electronics has yet to fully take root in the public imagination. Until it does, eco-friendly phones will remain strictly niche. However, the tide seems to be turning: Treehugger estimates that there will be over 400 million partly-recycled phones in circulation by 2017. More and more companies are using recycled materials, with the days of 100% recycled, biodegradable phones no longer an impossible Sci-Fi dream, but a coming (albeit distant) reality. With some luck, it may come sooner than we think.
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