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Innovation

Motorola's green-tech design principles

On any given day, there's another green such-and-such list out. When companies begin showing up on multiple lists, generally I sit up and take notice, as is the case with enterprise and consumer mobile technology powerhouse Motorola.
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Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

On any given day, there's another green such-and-such list out. When companies begin showing up on multiple lists, generally I sit up and take notice, as is the case with enterprise and consumer mobile technology powerhouse Motorola.

This fall, Motorola has shown up on three different rankings: the Dow Jones Sustainability World and North America indices, the Carbon Disclosure Project Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index and the Newsweek Green Rankings. Among other things, the company was cited for leadership in disclosure of environmental and sustainability information, as well as its use of renewable energy. Right now, Motorola sources about 119 million kilowatt-hours of green power annually; that amount is equivalent to approximately 30 percent of the company's U.S. purchased electricity use.

The extent to which Motorola's sustainability and green tech strategies change when the company splits apart will definitely be worth future scrutiny, but I received a grounding in the current focus by speaking with Don Bartell, senior director for Motorola's sustainability strategy, about both the company's internal green discipline as well as how it approaches product design with energy efficiency and recycling in mind.

First, a note on its green power. Right now, many of Motorola's renewable energy purchase are related to wind technology, primarily in the form of renewable energy certificates. Bartell says Motorola has investigated onsite generation opportunities, but was stymied by the wildlife refuge that it had set-up on the property -- an example of how sometimes different environmental initiatives may be at odds with one another.

Where I think Motorola's has the biggest chance to make an impact, however, is in the area of green product design. "Motorola itself is not an energy-intensive business, but our products during their lifecycle are responsible for several times as much energy as the company itself consumes," Bartell says.

Along those lines, the company was the first to develop a mobile phone, the Moto 233 Renew, that is sourced with post-consumer plastic from recycled water bottles (about 25 percent of the content). The housing itself also is 100 percent recyclable, and the phone is certified under the CarbonFree certification program run by CarbonFund.org. What that means is that Motorola has purchased offsets that are equivalent to the carbon footprint of the phone over its lifetime. That includes the impact of its component suppliers, which is an increasing focus for Motorola's sustainability team.

Bartell says the company is applying these same design principles to other devices, such as television settop boxes and enterprise mobile technology -- it is evaluating green design for its entire product line. Contrary to what many companies believe, it doesn't cost more to process this plastic, he says.

Recycling goals play a role in green design decisions. Consider, for example, that the average lifespan is about 18 months compared with about 10 years for a police communications scanner or 7 years for a settop box. "You have different recycling issues that have to be considered given that frequency," Bartell says.

Another development for mobile phone users to watch is the emergence of universal chargers that work from generation to generation of mobile phones -- and across different manufacturer's product lines. "That will shrink the cell phone charger graveyard," Bartell says.

There are some universal charger options today, but the date to watch is January 2012, which is the projected date by which many key mobile phone makers will introduce universal charging options based on the Micro USB interface into the marketplace.

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