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The best green phones: Sustainable and eco-friendly smartphones

What is the best green phone? The iPhone 13 Pro is our top pick for sustainability. To determine the best green phone, we analyzed various specifications, including eco-friendly packaging, energy consumption, incorporation of recycled materials, price, warranty, software system, camera quality, battery life, and more.

Sustainability has become a huge factor for many consumers, and people are looking for more eco-friendly options. While you might not think of tech as good for the environment, many tech companies -- and smartphones -- are going green.

The tech industry is responsible for tons of electronic waste and 2% to 3% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but companies are starting to take note. Many smartphone brands are making a more conscious effort by changing how they produce, ship, and package devices. There are still not a ton of sustainable phone options on the market, but you might be surprised at what models made the list. 

Whether you're looking to lower your overall carbon footprint or become a smarter consumer, we've rounded up the best environmentally conscious, eco-friendly, and sustainable smartphones to help you choose which one is right for you to go green.

Also: Most eco-friendly smartphone? Apple vs Samsung in the race against e-waste

iPhone 13 Pro

Best green phone

iPhone 13 Pro
(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Apple has been instituting more and more green initiatives into every new iPhone release, and the iPhone 13 Pro is the "greenest" model yet. According to Apple's Product Environmental Report, the iPhone 13 Pro is made with 99% recycled tungsten, and 98% recycled rare earth elements. It's also the first Apple product to use 100% certified recycled gold in the plating of the main logic board.

Energy use is another huge factor in making the iPhone 13 Pro a great eco-conscious pick. Apple said it uses 54% less energy consumed than the requirements for battery charger systems. It also had a 69kg carbon footprint throughout its entire life cycle (from production to recycling), or 11% less than the iPhone 12 Pro.

 Pros:

  • Apple Trade-In can give it a new life cycle once you need a new phone in a few years
  • Responsible packaging
  • Apple is committed to transitioning its entire manufacturing supply chain to 100% renewable electricity by 2030

Cons:

  • Expensive at $999.99 - $1299.99
  • A fairly heavy device at 7.19oz (204g)

Samsung Galaxy S22 series

Eco-conscious with a great camera

Samsung Galaxy S22 series
(Image: Samsung)

The Samsung Galaxy S22 series not only has excellent specs like a dynamic AMOLED 2x display and but it's also dubbed as Samsung's most eco-conscious device ever. First off, it contains 20% recycled ocean-bound plastic, all from discarded fishing nets. It also incorporates post-consumer recycled material in the speaker module and the inner parts of the volume and power keys.

 The packaging is sustainable, too. Samsung says it uses 100% recycled paper for the phone's packaging, including a protective film made from recycled plastic. It's all a part of Samsung's Galaxy for the Planet program, which includes plans to incorporate recycled material in all-new mobile products, eliminate all plastics in mobile packaging, and achieve zero waste to landfills, all by 2025.   

Pros:

  • It contains 20% recycled ocean plastic
  • Packaging is 100% recycled paper

Cons:

  • The phone itself could be made with a greater percentage of recycled elements
  • Fairly expensive at $799.99 - $1299.99

Fairphone 4

Certified sustainable

Fairphone 4
(Image: Fairphone)

While it's not a name-brand phone you may be familiar with, Fairphone was made to be a more sustainable option since the company was founded in 2013. Fairphone is Blue Angel certified for sustainability and is B Corp certified for using business to address social and environmental issues.

The fourth generation of the Fairphone (Fairphone 4) still has all the things you've come to know and love about smartphones -- like a full GD+ display, dual cameras with an ultra-wide lens, and 5G speeds -- while being built with sustainability in mind. The Fairphone 4 is made from aluminum from Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) certified vendors with a 100% recycled plastic back cover. And, for every phone Fairphone sells, the company recycles an equal amount of electronic waste.

One of the only downsides to the Fairphone 4 is its availability: it's currently only available in Europe, but the company said they are hoping to expand to the US in the future possibly. 

Pros:

  • Five-year warranty so your phone lasts beyond the average two-three years
  • Has 5G
  • Sells repair modules so you can fix the phone yourself

Cons:

  • It doesn't ship to the US -- only available in Europe
  • It runs on Android 9 

Teracube 2E

Engineered to last beyond two years

Teracube 2E
(Image: Teracube)

Another lesser-known brand in the smartphone market is Teracube, but the company is doing great things regarding sustainability. For every device sold, Teracube will plant a tree through a partnership with the One Tree Planted organization.

 The company's latest model, the Teracube 2E, is made with 25% recycled polycarbonate, has 50% less packaging than other smartphone models, and comes with a biodegradable phone case. In terms of tech specs, you can expect dual rear cameras, a 6.1-inch HD+ display, and the ability to repair the phone yourself, prolonging its life past the average two- to three-year lifespan of a smartphone. 

Pros:

  • Replaceable battery
  • Four-year warranty
  • Covered by T-Mobile and AT&T, among other popular US mobile carriers

Cons:

  • No 5G coverage
  • Only operates on Android 10 -- can't use the latest Android 12
  • Only 64 GB of storage 

Motorola Edge

Longer battery life

Motorola Edge
(Image: CNET)

Lenovo (which owns Motorola) laid out an ambitious 10-year climate pledge in 2020 for its sustainability plans for its products. Motorola said its entire mobile device product range is currently free from PVC (a synthetic polymer of plastic) and BFR (mixtures of man-made chemicals). Phone batteries do not have mercury or cadmium in them. In addition, the company uses 100% recycled pulp content to replace plastic parts in its packaging.

 Since all of Motorola's phones have made this eco-conscious shift, you could choose any Motorola model, but the Motorola Edge is arguably the most impressive smartphone in the lineup. It's a solid smartphone option with specs like a 144Hz display, three cameras (including one with a 108MP high-resolution sensor), and up to 256GB of built-in storage. Plus, the Motorola Edge promises two days of power on a single charge, limiting the need for electricity to charge your phone every single night. 

Pros:

  • Water repellent
  • Efficient battery charging

Cons:

  • Camera quality doesn't compare to competitors like Samsung or iPhone
  • No wireless charging
  • Disappointing software upgrade policy -- phone only comes with Android 11 

What is the best green phone?

The iPhone 13 Pro is our top eco-friendly phone. We considered many specs, including eco-friendly packaging, energy consumption, incorporation of recycled materials, price, warranty, software system, camera quality, battery life and more, to find the best green phone.

What makes a phone eco-friendly?

Some of the eco-friendly aspects of a phone include recycled parts and packaging, how long a device lasts (so you don't have to keep getting a new one every few years and contribute to the e-waste problem), a company's carbon footprint from the phone's production to its shipping processes, and its energy usage. 

Why choose an eco-friendly phone?

An eco-friendly phone will help reduce environmental waste (e-waste). According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in America, but only a fraction of it is collected. As a result, the world produces as much as 50 million metric tons of e-waste a year.

 Buying an eco-friendly phone means the phone is built with recycled materials and not hazardous e-waste materials like lead, nickel, and mercury. In addition, eco-friendly devices are built to last longer than the average smartphone, reducing the amount of e-waste by keeping your phone active for longer. 

How did we choose these eco-friendly phones?

We looked at the usual name-brand smartphones as well as the not-so-conventional brands to add to this list. We read through and fact-checked climate pledges and claims companies have made. Other criteria we considered when choosing the smartphones on this list were what the devices were made of and their overall energy usage/carbon footprint when compared to the average smartphone. 

Which eco-friendly phone is right for you?

If you're loyal to a smartphone brand, the Apple and Samsung phones on this list are great options that don't require you to give up the smartphone experience you are used to. The Fairphone 4 is an excellent eco-conscious option with 5G speeds if you live in Europe. And, if you want a cheaper phone that will last you at least five years, the Teracube 2E is a great option that's already covered by major mobile carriers. 

Are there alternative environmentally conscious phones worth considering?

Here are a couple of other phone options to look into: 

Amazon Renewed Phones: Give a device a second life

Of course, you can go the refurbished route and get any smartphone model you want and feel better about it than buying brand new. Refurbished phones are previously owned and used phones that are repaired to give them a second life. Buying refurbished means the phone won't turn into e-waste by being thrown away to sit in a landfill. Instead, refurbished phones are sold by a mobile carrier, manufacturer, or retailer who has repaired them and runs thorough checks to ensure they meet a certain standard.

Amazon has a great pre-owned and refurbished program called Amazon Renewed that includes devices like the iPhone, Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy, and more at lower prices than a brand new model.