Upwardly Mobile: How green is your phone?

Why telecoms risks being all talk on the environment

Why telecoms risks being all talk on the environment

Like any massive corporation worth its salt, handset manufacturers and telecoms kit makers are falling over each other to convince us they're as keen on stopping climate change as Al Gore.

Any move to make telecoms more green has to be applauded but some of the recent environmental efforts coming out of the UK's networks look a little like the emperor's new clothes.

Take two very similar announcements that have come from Orange and O2 recently, both revealing the companies will be encouraging consumers to only renew their handsets every two years, rather than using the 12 monthly replacement cycle most consumers now expect.

O2 crowed that their 24 month contract was all with climate change in mind - fewer handsets produced, fewer in landfill, fewer emissions. Yes, O2 wants to save the world, one handset at a time. Brings a tear to a glass eye, doesn't it? Orange takes a more straightforward approach, pushing their two year initiative as a simple price trade off - keep hold of your phone, get cheaper tariffs.

Any such move should be applauded but in O2's case it seems a little bit like using greenness to polish up an average marketing announcement. Of course a two-year replacement cycle is good for the environment but a lot of handsets are simply not gifted with that sort of longevity. For subscribers to want to keep their handsets for so long, the handsets must be up to the job - solid battery life, resilient housing, the lot. If telecoms industry really wants to persuade us it's gone green, it needs to make more of an effort on the devices themselves.

Some telecoms makers, however, are impressing with their embrace of green technologies. Several kit manufacturers have harnessed wind power or biofuel to power their base stations. While these ideas are aimed at the developing world where traditional powerlines are at a premium, there's no reason such renewable technologies can't be employed in the UK or the US - once again, it's down to the mobile industry to strip away the PR fluff and show willing by making some genuine effort in the name of the environment.

There are things that can be done that can help mobile users be more responsible with relatively little fuss or fanfare.

One such announcement came out of Nokia this week. From now on, the Finnish company will replace the 'battery full' notice on it handsets with message that advises users that their battery is full and they should disconnect it from the power supply.

Apparently, only five per cent of energy used by chargers goes into the phones themselves, the rest is wasted by chargers left plugged in unnecessarily. It's not very sexy as far as these announcements go but it's a very great, simple way to make mobile less of a burden on the environment.

Of course, Nokia could go further. The day it integrates solar panels into its mobile chargers is the day I will recognise that the mobile industry has woken up to its responsibilities. I hope I won't be waiting too long.