How green is your mobile phone?

I have been thinking about a post along these lines for some time, especially since A, it's hard to come across someone who doesn't have a mobile phone glued to their ear or clenched in their hand and, B, people have an almost disposable mentality when it comes to same. New features?

I have been thinking about a post along these lines for some time, especially since A, it's hard to come across someone who doesn't have a mobile phone glued to their ear or clenched in their hand and, B, people have an almost disposable mentality when it comes to same. New features? Gimme! Better service? Gimme!

Before you decided to upgrade, remember this: the rate of recycling for mobile phones continues to be astonishingly low, something around 10 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So, I loved the fact that IDC has written a new report ranking the sustainability efforts of the various mobile phone and smartphone makers. It looked at five simple things: packaging, materials, energy, end-of-life of life management (aka recycling options) and overall corporate sustainability efforts.

IDC looks at 10 different "key" mobile phone manufacturers and has come out with five that it feels does a better job than the rest. It doesn't disclose its ratings in the press release discussing the report, but here they are in alphabetical order, along with the one major thing that got them on IDC's list.

  • Apple: Offers recycling in 95 percent of the countries in which its products are sold.
  • LG: Earning kudos from IDC for power management, including solar charger.
  • Nokia: Focus on green materials and the recyclability of same.
  • Samsung: Points for attention to eliminating hazardous materials.
  • Sony Ericsson: Optimized packaging and elimination of paper manuals.

So, look at your own hands: are you holding something from one of these companies? Two of the top companies in terms of shipments, Research in Motion and Motorola, obviously are missing from this top 5 list. If your mobile phone handset maker isn't there, you might want to exercise some due diligence on the policies of your own mobile phone or smart phone maker.

I recommend checking out the May edition of the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, which details the materials handling, recycling and overall corporate sustainability efforts of about 20 key consumer electronics companies. (The next version should be out at the end of this month.)

If you take a look at the Greenpeace guide, you'll note that Nokia is actually number 1 on its list, earning some extra points for phasing out brominated compounds, chlorinated flame retardants and antimony trioxide (!) from its new products. Sony Ericsson was No. 2, for being "the best performer on the toxic chemicals criteria of all the ranked brands."

Two things that struck me as odd:

  • Motorola, which DOESN'T show up in the Top 5 of IDC's list, is actually tied for third on the Greenpeace ranking. It gets good marks for eliminated certain hazardous materials, as well as for energy efficiency.
  • LG actually is much farther down on the Greenpeace list; it was dinged for making unsupported claims about the energy performance of is products. Will have to see if this position is updated in the next Greenpeace ranking.