Mobile phones are ubiquitous andthey are a central part of modern life, but they come with varying degrees of eco-friendliness. Collectively, the billions of phones in the world today have a massive environmental footprint. Manufacturers are responding to growing consumer interest in eco-friendly phones.
In the last two decades, smartphones have gone way beyond being simply mobile communication devices. For many of us, they are our primary conduit to the digital world. There is no denying the importance of cell phones in our world today and this is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.
Ericsson's 2015 Mobility Report states that there are 2.6 billion smartphone subscriptions globally. Driven by growing adoption rates in the developing world, the report predicts that there will be a total of 9.2 billion mobile subscriptions by 2020. In the next four years, smartphones are expected to account for 80 percent of all data traffic.
Mobile phones come with a host of environmental insults including the use of plastic (made from fossil fuels), toxicity, e-waste and energy usage. The general propensity of people to replace their phones every couple of years exacerbates many of these problems. In the U.S. alone, over 125 million cell phones are thrown out every year. To help counter these and other environmental threats, many mobile phone manufacturers are incorporating eco-friendly features.
When buying a phone, there are a number of considerations that can help to minimize the environmental impact. Consumers can now choose from a wide assortment of greener phones.
Greener phones can incorporate things like environmentally sensitive practices in the materials selection and the production process. A green phone has some of the following features:
- Use less energy
- Efficient recharge
- No toxic or hazardous materials
- Use sustainable and/or recycled materials
- Environmentally conscious manufacturing
- Low radiation emission rates
Mobile phone manufacturers are earnestly striving to build technologies that have less of an impact on our ecology. A few years ago it was estimated that by 2017, there will be 400 million greener cell phones.
Here is a summary of 22 of the world's greenest mobile phones.
22. Xperia: (Z, SP, ZR): In an attempt to reduce their environmental impacts, this series of phones has virtually eliminated unsafe materials.
21. iPhone 6: This phone has an enclosure that is recyclable and an efficient power adapter and battery.
20. iPhone 6Plus: This phone has a recyclable aluminum body, its construction is PVC–free and Beryllium-free. The phone also has a mercury-free backlit LED display.
19. iPhone 6S: This phone has a speaker enclosure with 30 percent post-consumer recycled plastic and a highly efficient power adapter. It is PVC and beryllium free.
18. iPhone SE: This phone has a recyclable aluminum enclosure, it is PVC and mercury-free and it has an LED-backlit display.
17. Captivate: This phone is one of the greenest models produced by Samsung. While Samsung is working to reduce the environmental impact of all their phones, the Captive boasts the lowest GHG emissions, lowest radiation, and most recyclable materials.
16. Microsoft Lumia 532: This phone has a small printed guide to minimize paper use and it comes with minimized packaging. It is free of PVC, Nickel and brominated flame retardants (BFR).
15. Lumia 532 Dual SIM: This phone is made out of 100 percent recoverable materials and it comes in recyclable packaging.
14. Lumia 500: This phone has no nickel or BFR, a very low radiation and battery saving options.
13. Lumia 650: This phone comes in fully recyclable packaging and is made of 55 percent recycled materials. It is free of BFR, PVC and Nickel.
12. Lumia 535 Dual SIM: This phone is free of PVC and nickel and it is also free of BFR and rFR. Packaging is minimized and made of 100 percent renewable materials. The phone also has an automatic screen brightness adjustment and a battery saver feature. This phone is 100 percent recoverable as materials and energy. The phone comes with a small printable guide, in place of the conventional printed guide. The body of the phone is made of virgin wood fibers and its components are made of as much as 50 percent recycled materials.
Nokia (owned by Microsoft)
11. 215: This basic phone has no nickel on its product surface and it is BFR free. It is made of renewable materials. The cell phone favors renewable materials in its construction and has a durable body.
10. Lumia 638 4G: This phone is made from non-PVC materials, it uses recycled metal and has a nickel-free surface. It has no BFR or rFR.
9. E-Cu: This concept phone charges in your pocket. The phone is encased in a copper skin that allows it to convert body heat into electricity.
8. 230 Dual SIM: This phone has an unplug charger reminder so that you do not overcharge and waste electricity. It is free of PVC, nickel and BFR. It also has an automatic screen brightness adjustment that saves energy.
7. Classic Non Camera: This phone is toxin-free, recyclable, energy efficient and certified for UL Environment.
6. Ascend W1: This phone has very few hazardous and environmentally egregious materials. It is made of recycled plastic, it is highly energy efficient, the battery life is among the very best and radiation levels are very low.
5. X 259: This phone features a solar-powered battery for auxiliary power and backup. A one time charge of three hours in the sun will keep the phone functional for ninety minutes.
4. Delta V: This phone is the first energy independent smart phone. The phone charges using 3 different ways of charging directly on the cell phone’s housing: a photovoltaic film, a piezoelectric film and a triboelectric film. The nanogenerators under the films convert even the slightest vibrations and movements into power for the phone’s functions, so that no charger is needed. The phone comes with small reusable packaging that is shaped like a book
3. EcoMobius modular phone: This phone is a leader when it comes to tackling the problem of e-waste. It does this by making upgrades easy thereby reducing the need to dispose of a phone and buy a new one. The modular device allows the average user to swap out parts rather than replacing the entire phone.
2. O2 Recycle Phone: This is the first phone made from reclaimed cell phone parts, grass clippings and other natural products. The phone's casing is made from recycled resin and specially treated grass clippings. This is the only phone in the world that uses this eco-friendly carbon fibre-like composite material instead of plastic. This phone is not being produced for the mass market.
1. Fairphone 2:This phone is the undisputed green leader. The company closely controls the materials they use in their phone and they only work with reputable suppliers who share their mission. This is a phone that improves the entire electronics value chain.
The phone is designed to be durable and repairable by almost any user. To make this possible they sell spare parts and offer repair tutorials. It is made out of recycled plastic and aluminum. Unique among cell phone manufacturers, its components are ethically sourced. The Fairphone 2 also features a sturdy back cover that precludes the need for a case.
Contrary to other mobile phone companies that build in obsolesce and strive to get consumers to continually upgrade, Fairphone encourages consumers to replace their phones only when they have reached the end of their usable life. As the company says:
"[T]he fairest phone available is the one you already own, so we’d like to encourage you to keep your existing mobile as long as it works."
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.
Image credit: Maurizio Pesce, courtesy flickr