Check out our updated review of the greenest mobile phones
There are a number of phones on the market that claim to be green. Here is a review of four leading manufacturers and the greenest mobile phones in the world.
Four Blackberrys, two Apples, six Samsungs, and five Nokias
According to a United Nations Telecom Agency report, there are about 6 billion cell phone subscribers around the globe. With low recycling rates and the average cell phone life being around 18 months, this means billions of phones have been thrown away around the world..
The Key impacts of telecommunications companies include water use, greenhouse-gas emissions, waste and disposal. Combined, these impacts account for more than 85 percent of the total environmental footprint of telecommunication companies.
The environmental impacts of e-waste generated by discarded electronic goods is a growing problem. It is estimated that e-waste is growing at a rate of 40 million tons per year. A United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report titled, “Recycling - from e-Waste to Resources,’ indicates that 20 – 50 million tons of e-waste is generated each year worldwide.
Consumers dispose of more than 350,000 mobile phones every day. According to the EPA, 141 million mobile phones were discarded in 2009 and only 12 million of those were collected for recycling. Roughly 100 million mobile phones are discarded in Europe and China each year.
The global consumption and waste generated by mobile phones has several deleterious environmental impacts. Much of this waste is deposited in landfills or incinerated, releasing toxins and other pollutants. Increasingly, e-waste is also being exported to developing countries, where it is dismantled under poorly regulated conditions. The plastic used in cell phone can take between 500 to 1000 years to biodegrade; additionally, plastic manufacturing uses approximately 7 percent of the world’s fossil fuels.
However, several telecommunication companies are addressing these issues with programs like end-of-life product-management. These programs take back and recycle mobile phones. Some leading companies are going further by incorporating eco-design criteria such as material selection and energy efficiency into their product design. A United Nations-sponsored program, Solving the e-Waste Problem (StEP), is considered a best practice.
Pressure campaigns are driving cells phones to be more transparent and more sustainable. An Environmental Leader article reports that Friends of the Earth called on Apple and Samsung to tell consumers where they source the tin used in their mobile phones, as part of the UK-based advocacy group’s Make It Better campaign.
According to a 2010 study, 44 percent of consumers consider a device’s environmental credentials when purchasing a smartphone. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that consumers are increasingly demanding better management of environmental impacts from their cell phone manufacturers. Apple found this out the hard way when consumers forced the company to reinstate its use of the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool for its products after it was dropped.
By 2017, Treehugger estimates that 400 million green cell phones, or those made with at least 50 percent recycled content, will be shipped. Greener mobile phones are very important because they employ more responsible raw materials and are recycled rather than discarded.
Ideal Attributes of a Green Smartphone
As reported in Eco Leader, here are some ideal attributes of a green smartphone.
- 100% Recyclable housing.
- Certified Carbon Neutral smartphone that uses carbon offsets for both the phone and the promotional website.
- No hazardous chemical substances including brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs), Polyvinyl chloride (PVCs).
- UL Platinum Level Certification per UL ISR 110 requirements (see below).
- RoHS, WEEE and other eco certifications.
- Eco-Friendly accessories with an optional solar charging battery case that also includes an embedded dynamo charger.
- All accessories must be made from 100 percent recycled plastics with toxic-free materials, carbon neutral validation and environmental certifications.
- Zero Energy Charger that cuts off vampire current if the smartphone is unplugged and/or when it is fully charged.
- 100 percent recycled and recyclable packaging with no manuals (user information can be obtained online).
- A trade-in recycling program
- An e-cycling partnership program would ensure that the products would be completely recycled in an environmentally safe way that maximizes reuse of all components.
Eco-apps are an integral component of attributes that make a smartphone green. These Apps drive awareness and foster responsible action. Green-themed apps have also turned mobile devices into portals of environmental education and sustainable action. Eco-apps can monitor a wide array of energy using devices, they can maximize efficiency, as well as reduce energy and water consumption. They can also provide information on issues like recycling and renewable energy. For a full review of eco-apps click here.
BlackBerry App World™, offers a number of green applications. Search terms like “environment” or “green” and you can find a number of apps that help users calculate their CO2 emissions, determine their energy efficiency or locate recycling centers.
With the recent launch of the Z10, the company formerly known as RIM has put all its eggs in the BlackBerry basket. The new Z10 is the company's latest and it was heralded with the best ever launch of any BlackBerry product.
The company claims it is always on the lookout for sustainable innovations. However, substantial reductions in their R&D department make this claim questionable. Nonetheless, BlackBerry claims they are striving to reduce their footprint throughout the lifecycle of their products from initial concept to final delivery.
In 2012, BlackBerry worked with experienced sustainability consultants to conduct in-depth, baseline assessments of their sustainability policies, programs and product development activities. The Natural Step, an international non-profit research and advisory organization, conducted a Sustainability Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA). The SLCA provided a strategic overview of the sustainability their products, highlighting the ecological and social impacts of current products throughout their life cycle.
To further assess the impact of their products, BlackBerry worked with Five Winds International, an experienced sustainability management consulting firm, to conduct comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies on the BlackBerry® Torch™ 9810 smartphone.
The assessment provided an in-depth view of each product’s environmental impacts at every stage in its life cycle, from the materials used in the product, to production and distribution, to its use, and for the end of its life. Results from the LCA studies helped BlackBerry identify what they are doing well and opportunities to continue to lessen their environmental impacts.
Their smaller packaging reduces material use and results in more efficient transportation. Their distributed manufacturing sites also reduce the impacts from transportation, and their efficient repair and refurbishment processes contribute to lowering lifetime impacts and extending the product’s useful life.
BlackBerry is moving towards a more sustainable, holistic packaging approach to reduce its environmental footprint. New eco-friendly packaging for BlackBerry® mobile phones, along with reduced transportation emissions, paperless documentation and BlackBerry accessories, help to deliver more sustainable products.
BlackBerry also offers a variety of options for customers to responsibly dispose of BlackBerry devices that have reached the end of their useful life.
Estimated greenhouse gas emissions for the BlackBerry Torch 9810 smartphone for a 90 day period are 34.83 CO2 (1 percent repair/refurbish, 3 percent transport, 55 percent manufacturing, 44 percent utilization, 0.02 percent recycling/End of Life activities).
BlackBerry works with suppliers and manufacturers to source sustainable, conflict free minerals and uses recycled content. BlackBerry abides by an internally generated Restricted Substances List, adapted from the Joint Industry Guide and the guidance of various regulatory bodies. BlackBerry only uses substances that are compliant with the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive.
In addition, Beryllium and a number of phthalates have been removed from BlackBerry products and accessories. BlackBerry is also working to find responsible alternatives to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in new products. In recognition of the potential hazards posed by halogenated compounds at the end of a product's life, BlackBerry is working to eliminate these substances.
Currently, all BlackBerry mobile phones contain less than 0.1 percent by weight of any brominated or chlorinated substances, including BFRs, CFRs and PVCs. By the end of 2013, BlackBerry intends to go a step further and reduce the use of halogens in all homogenous materials consistent with the JEDEC JS-709A standard for all new products.
In 2012, the BlackBerry Bold 9000 was ranked as the twelfth greenest cell phone in a study conducted by iFixit and HealthyStuff.org. The BlackBerry Curve 8530 ranked 22tnd, the BlackBerry Tour 9630 ranked 26th and the BlackBerry Storm 9530 ranked 32nd.
The iFixit and HealthyStuff.org study dissected 36 smart-phones and analysed the chemical composition of these phones using X-ray flourscence spectrometry. The smart-phones with the least number of known hazardous chemicals like bromine, mercury and lead were given the highest ranking.
In 2012, BlackBerry continued to score low in the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronic. BlackBerry earned just 2.0 points out of a possible 10. It remains in the 16th place and is the lowest position of the companies evaluated by Greenpeace.
Apple's iPhone app store has dozens of green apps for a wide variety of applications. In fact, iPhone has one of the best selections of apps of any smartphone manufacturer. While the iPhone is well positioned in terms of apps, other aspects of Apple's operations have been widely criticized.
According to a report from leading Chinese environment groups, Apple is more secretive about its supply chain than nearly all of its competitors. Apple has been accused of environmental neglect and worker abuse. Apple has been plagued with a spate of workplace poisonings, heavy metal contamination incidents and suicides at the Chinese factories that supply materials and components for its mobile phones and computers.
Despite these criticisms, all of Apple's products are BFR-free and PVC-free. They also are mercury-free and have arsenic-free glass. The majority of product packaging is made from post-consumer-recycled fiberboard and bio-based materials.
Apple is also getting into renewable energy in a big way. The company is using a solar farm to power its iCloud data center in Maiden, North Carolina. As of December 2012, Energy Manager reports that 5 MW of fuel cells are now running, and Apple plans to increase this to 10 MW of biogas-powered fuel cells, and 20 MW of solar power.
The company’s 2012 facilities report said Apple’s other data centers in Austin, Texas; Elk Grove, Calif.; Cork, Ireland; and Munich, Germany are all powered exclusively by renewable energy. Apple’s data center in Prineville, Ore. will also be powered using locally sourced renewable power.
Early in 2013, another Energy Manager article reported that Apple plans to develop a wind turbine that generates electricity from stored wind energy. This unique project proposes to generate electricity from converting heat energy rather than rotational energy created by the rotation of the turbine’s blades. Apple says this “on-demand” electric generation system can cut costs associated with variations in wind supply, and can replace conventional energy storage technologies such as batteries.
The iFixit and HealthyStuff.org study indicated that Apple’s leading green phones are the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 which came in at number two and number five, respectively.
Apple was singled out by the Carbon Disclosure Project in 2012 for failing to provide climate change disclosure and performance data. As reported in Environmental Leader, a total of 81 percent of corporations (405 companies) from the Global 500 responded to the CDP questionnaire, Apple was amongst the relatively small group of big companies that did not.
According to Newsweek's 2012 rankings, Apple ranked 118 among U.S. companies, a 68-point drop from 2011. The chief reason for Apple's decline was its failure to answer the Carbon Disclosure Project's survey in both 2012 and 2011.
Greenpeace indicates that Apple has some serious weaknesses in GHG emissions, renewable energy and paper sourcing:
- Apple needs external verification of its reduction in GHG emissions and needs to specify a noteworthy target to reduce emissions in the future.
- Although renewable energy now comprises more than 13 percent of its facility-related electricity consumption, Apple needs more ambitious goals for increasing its renewable energy use by 2020.
- While Apple does use recycled paper in its product packaging, it has not published any paper procurement policy that excludes suppliers that are involved in deforestation and illegal logging.
In the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, Apple dropped to 6th position in 2012. Apple earned a score of only 4.6 on 10 due in large part to its lack of transparency.
In the third quarter of 2012, the Samsung Galaxy S III took the top spot away from Apple to became the most popular smartphone with sales of 18 million. Like other major smartphone manufacturers, Samsung has a wide variety of green apps.
Samsung's green vision makes it a leader in the Eco-Design and Sustainable Technologies category. Samsung is now a member of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI) and they have established an international research institute called the Green Technology Center (GTC) which will focus on developing environmentally friendly technologies.
In 2008, Samsung launched an eco-phone made with corn-based bioplastics. In 2011, Samsung launched more Green IT products and services. Samsung continues to work on improving energy efficiency, reducing CO2 emissions and lessening the end of life impacts. As Samsung has stated in their “Imagine” brand campaign, they push the limits of greener technology.
In 2011, Samsung was penalized in Greenpeace rankings because it backtracked on its commitment to eliminate BFRs in all of its products. Additionally, it has not published any target to cut absolute GHG emissions. Similar to Apple, it also needs an eco-friendly paper procurement policy.
The Samsung Replenish can be powered by an optional solar charging battery cover and an eco-cover made from Naturacell, an environmentally friendly, plant-based plastic. The casing of the Replenish includes 34.6 percent post-consumer recycled plastic content and 82 percent of the device is made from recyclable material. It comes in recyclable packaging.
Samsung's fully recyclable packaging incorporates 80 percent post-consumer waste material and uses soy inks. as well as a postage-paid envelope to recycle old phones.
The Galaxy Exhilarate, Samsung Replenish and Evergreen are mobile phones that are made with either 70 or 80 percent post-consumer waste material and they are all Platinum Certified by UL Environment (see below).
In a Treehugger ranking of green cell phones, Samsung has three of the top 5. Their list includes the Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate at number 3, Samsung Replenish at number 4 and Samsung Evergreen at number 5.
According to the iFixit and HealthyStuff.org study, Samsung leads the green smartphone market with six entries in the top 14: Samsung Capitvate, Samsung Evergreen, Samsung Reclaim, Samsung Galaxy 5 lll, Samsung Eternity, and Samsung Intensity ll.
Samsung moved up to 7th position in the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics for 2012. Samsung earned a score of 4.2 in the 2012 Guide. Although the Guide points out that Samsung is close to achieving a revised goal of eliminating some of the most hazardous substances from its products.
Nokia is a global leader in green mobile phones through their commitment to produce phones that are energy efficient, contain recycled materials, and are themselves recyclable. The company has successfully reduced the harmful effects of inefficient products, package waste, and energy loss.
Like other major smartphone manufacturers, Nokia also has a wide array of eco-apps. Nokia’s App store, Ovi, offers the Ovi Store Green Channel, which compiles all of Nokia’s eco-friendly apps in one location. Nokia’s green apps are designed to make green living easier for users with green tips, eco-friendly travel apps, and even apps that increase the energy efficiency of the Nokia phone. One of the best is a Green Charging application that assists users in saving power.
Nokia’s sustainability efforts are deeply embedded into their corporate DNA. This is evidenced in their corporate policies, design solutions and strict environmental and ethical standards. Nokia strives to incorporate environmental awareness and sustainability into all aspects of product development and manufacturing.
Nokia has worked to reduce packaging on all their products. Nokia was the first company to introduce renewable materials in their cell phones, including bio plastics, bio paints and recycled metals. Nokia uses life cycle assessments on all their products to better develop products with a reduced environmental impact.
A total of 95 percent of Nokia’s phone packaging is made of renewable materials, with up to 60 percent of the packaging made from recycled materials. Nokia’s packaging is 100% recyclable. All the materials in Nokia devices can be reused, reducing future waste.
Nokia has also worked to reduce the amount of energy used in their phone chargers by 95 percent. All Nokia phones sound an alert when the battery is finished recharging. Nokia phones are also equipped with a special Power Save mode, as well as other adjustable energy saving settings.
For a few consecutive years, Greenpeace ranked Nokia as the world’s greenest electronics company due to their record on recycling, eliminating toxic materials and end of life issues.
In 2010, the Nokia N8 was considered to be one of the world’s greenest mobile phones. That was due in large part to the devices incredible energy efficiency. The Nokia N8 reminded you to unplug, it also had a power saver mode and came with the Fast Charger AC-15 (which has extremely low no-load energy consumption). It also had an OLED display ambient light sensor. It was manufactured with greener materials. Nokia's N8 used bio plastic made of fermented corn sugar and is totally free of PVC, BFR and RFR. Its packaging was 100% recyclable and its parts are 100% recyclable and recoverable.
Last year Nokia produced one of the world's most eco-friendly smartphones called the Nokia 700 which is free of substances like PVC, BFRs, CFRs and antimony trioxide (RFR). It is made with materials like bio plastics, recycled plastics and recycled metals. This was considered by many to be the greenest phone in the world until Nokia's newest offering was introduced. Nokia's latest offering is known as the Lumia 820. The phone is made from recycled materials and bio-plastics (made from inedible plants) and avoids a number of materials that cause environmental concerns. All materials in this device can be recovered as materials and energy. The packaging is made of renewable materials which contains up to 60 percent recycled material, virgin wood fibres and their packaging is 100 percent recyclable.
The estimated environmental impact of the Lumia 820 over a product life cycle (3 years) is as follows: Energy breakdown: raw materials 66 percent, product usage 19 percent, transportation 12 percent, Nokia factory 2 percent, recycling 1 percent. GHG emissions breakdown: raw materials 65 percent, product usage 17 percent, transportation 12 percent, Nokia factory 3 percent, recycling 1 percent.
The Lumia 820 uses materials that are free of PVCs, BFRs CFRs and antimony trioxide. These phones are also free of nickel on the product surface, contain recycled metals in inner parts of the product, and contain bio-based materials in cover and inner parts of the product
In 2012, Nokia was recognized as the “Greenest manufacturer” in the telecoms sector, according to Newsweek’s Green Rankings
The Nokia Surge was ranked 13th by the iFixit and HealthyStuff.org study. The Nokia N95 was ranked 33rd.
After three years in first place, Nokia fell to 3rd in the 2011 edition of the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics. In 2012, Nokia again ranked 3rd in the Greenpeace Guide.
There are new novel approaches to mobile phones that will continue to make the industry greener. The ADzero Bamboo is a good example of a smartphone that represents the convergence of sustainability and technical innovation. It completed the final stages of its development in late 2012 and is scheduled to be released to the public sometime in 2013. What makes this phone a stellar example of green innovation is its environmentally friendly casing which is made from treated four-year-old organically grown bamboo. This innovative phone was designed by a student studying product design at Middlesex University in the UK and when it was spotted online, the 23-year-old was approached by an investor to assist in creating a working device.
There are new certification standards like UL ISR 110 that identify mobile phones that are less environmentally destructive. These standards address materials, manufacturing, recyclability, packaging, environmental impacts, human health, efficiency and innovation in sustainability. Similar to EPEAT, the rankings are listed as silver, gold and platinum.
The next generation of mobile phones must further reduce their carbon footprints throughout the entire product lifecycle. They must set even more ambitious renewable energy goals and they must also find more innovative solutions for extending the lifecycle of products .
Increasingly, consumers will have more to consider when evaluating their mobile devices and more choices when purchasing greener mobile phones.
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: edans, courtesy flickr