Now that we’ve come stumbling blindly into the 21st Century, flailing our arms, and screaming at the top of our lungs to be satisfied and pampered until we can melt into a state of irreversible serenity, mobile devices and cell phones have surpassed luxury items and become a necessity to properly function within a harsh and judgmental society. But as this metamorphosis occurs, another movement pushes through: the Green movement. And while it’s no secret that cell phones, mobile devices, and computers are not “green,” many seem to turn a blind eye to the increased level of plastics and metals and choose in favor of productivity.
Well that’s fine. A society needs to be productive to advance, and nothing screams productivity like having access to global communication and networking at the touch of a handy button.
First of all, there are the materials. From plastics to the rare, powdery precious metal tantalum (mined primarily in Central Africa, where it’s become implicated in local exploitation and violence and is now known as a conflict material), cell phone materials present a variety of environmental and even human rights issues. Kinda like “blood diamonds,” but in higher demand.
Then there’s energy use. Smartphones are especially notorious energy hogs, with most models rarely getting more than a day of usage without some pretty drastic energy-saving strategies. It’s not just the obvious charging that takes up electricity and energy that increases a carbon footprint, but the cell usage and data transfer when multiplied millions and millions of times can drastically increase energy output.
All of this electricity consumption adds up to greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, this all depends on how often you use your device, but with great apps comes great responsibility–and telling an iPhone user how often and to what extent he can use his Applications is like trying to take guns and Bibles away from rednecks.
Aware that cell phones have an eco image problem, nearly all cell phone manufacturers, U.S. wireless carriers and office supply or electronics vendors now offer recycling programs (both in-store and mail-in) where they’ll take back your used phone for free and recycle the materials as much as possible.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides links to many vendor-sponsored programs.
Keeping your used cell phones out of landfills is one important way to green your cell phone use. But green is the color of money, too. You can make money by selling your used cell phone for reuse, either directly to a friend or charity, or through a verified Trade-In program.
An even greener (and generally cheaper) option is to buy a used cell phone rather than a new one. If you don’t absolutely need all the latest features, you can probably get a good price on a model in good condition that’s a year or less old.
This summer, the UK wireless carrier O2 presented its first eco ratings of popular mobile phones. This effort proved controversial because Apple (maker of the iPhone) and Research in Motion (maker of the world’s most popular smartphone, the BlackBerry) declined to participate.
However, RIM says it will participate next year. And some are questioning why several smartphones made it onto O2′s eco-friendly phone list.
Back in the U.S., it may soon get easier to tell which cell phones are really green. UL Environment Inc. (part of Underwriters Laboratories) is designing its initial sustainability standards for cell phones. The draft standards are due out in late 2010.
While we wait to discover new ways to increase the quality of our mobile devices while decreasing our carbon footprint, keep a few things in mind: When using your cell phone, keep in mind that texting is your most energy-efficient (and thus eco-friendly) communication option. Or if possible, call from an old-fashioned land line instead — that uses far less power to transmit calls.