With no unifying or international rating or certification currently awarded, how do you judge the impact that your shiny new smartphone is having on the environment?
It's a question that's currently almost impossible to answer. If a phone is judged simply based on the energy it consumes when in use, then all premium handsets from all of the major manufacturers will score very highly. A smartphone costs less than $1 a year to keep charged; however, how much energy went into its creation, was it made from recycled materials, and what happens to it once it is no longer fit for purpose or until a better model comes along?
CTO Development, which since 1992 has been awarding international sustainability certificates to IT products, this month announced that it will be extending its practices to include smartphones for the first time. The organization's seal of approval will be awarded for products that are not only energy efficient but also demonstrate socially responsible manufacturing and recycling practices and a commitment to reducing or eliminating the use of substances that are potentially hazardous to health.
However, the standard is still in the discussion phase and is not expected to launch until 2014. In the meantime, the most comprehensive guide currently available is courtesy of Greenpeace, whose biannual Guide to Greener Electronics ranks all of the world's major tech companies in terms of sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions, recycling and use of precious earth minerals, as well as on issues such as a product's energy efficiency.
Here is a ranking of smartphone brands according to Greenpeace's latest Guide to Greener Electronics, released in November 2012:
Ranked as the world's greenest phonemaker by Greenpece and as the the 14th greenest company anywhere in the world by Newsweek, Nokia recently hit its target for 40% renewable energy and also scores highly for its commitment to sustainability. It operates phone collection points in 100 countries and its latest handsets all use recycled plastics in their manufacture.
In 2012 Apple met its goal of 70% recycling as a percentage of its sales and it has some of the industry's most robust policies regarding the use of conflict minerals. Its smartphones are some of the most energy efficient on the market and it was one of the first tech companies to produce polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC) and brominated frame retardant (BFR) free products.
The South Korean company wins praise for its approach to product lifecycle, helping consumers hold on to their existing devices for as long as possible. The company is also completely open about not only its own greenhouse emissions but those of its supply chain partners.
Historically one of the most environmentally aware technology conglomerates, Sony already uses 8,500 tonnes of post-consumer recycled plastics a year in its products and has phased out the use of polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC). It has also committed to a 5% drop in the use of virgin oil-based plastics by 2015. Like Apple and Nokia, Sony also scores well for the energy efficiency of its products.
Many of the company's products meet or exceed the Energy Star efficiency standards and Lenovo has also invested heavily in the use of recycled plastics and at the time of the last Greenpeace report -- published in November -- it was in the process of setting ambitious targets for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions. Whether it remains on track will be revealed in May, when the latest edition of the pressure group's bi-annual report is published.
According to Greenpeace, all LG mobile phones are free of polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC) and brominated frame retardants (BFRs) and free of phthalates, antimony trioxide and beryllium oxide. The company could do more to reduce greenhouse emissions but scores highly for its commitment to sustainability, which includes a phone buyback system in 52 countries for obsolete devices.
Over the last year, the company formerly known as RIM has made significant progress to improve the energy efficiency of both its devices and their chargers. All of its smartphones are free of brominated and chlorinate substances. The company also surveys its own suppliers on their sourcing of conflict minerals.