How Do Phones Go Green?

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You can improve the manufacture of phones – and then there’s the problems of chargers and recycling

How do you reduce the impact of a mobile phone? We got a few pointers from Sony Ericsson, O2 and others in London, just before the launch of two green phones.

As it turns out, the industry has spent years reducing the power demands of phones, to get as much battery life as possible out of them. This means the main environmental cost is in manufacture and shipping – and the main way to reduce that is in packaging.

This leaves the phone industry with two other issues to sort out: the Universal Charger, announced at Mobile World Congress this year, and the recycling of phones that have finished their active life.

Cutting the costs

“Manufacturing is 60 percent of the phone’s lifecycle cost, and the biggest part of that is the chips – the processor and memory,” said Mats Pellbäck-Scharp, head of corporate sustainability at Sony Ericsson. There’s not much to be done with the electronics, and all vendors use similar processors and memory chips. It’s unlikely that users would accept a smaller display or less memory to reduce the lifetime footprint of their phone – but other elements of the manufacture can be easily reduced, he said.

As it turns out, the easiest way to reduce that is to eliminate the software CD and the manual which normally come with a phone. This reduces the amount of printing, and also allows a smaller box which will reduce shipping costs, as well as trimming more off the print budget. The manual accounts for around 15 percent of the overall footprint.

The C901, launched this week does this – but so do all Sony Ericsson’s new phones, says Pellbäck-Scharp, with the result that the new Satio has half the carbon footprint of the iPhone.

Green charger

Phone chargers have become more intelligent, and most now reduce to standby when a phone is fully charged, according to Mats Pellbäck Pellbäck-Scharp, corporate sustainability head at Sony Ericsson.

But there is a bigger issue with chargers. Why do all phones come with a new charger, asked Dr Hamadoun Touré, head of the ITU, in an interview with eWEEK Europe in February, and a universal charger was launched at Mobile World Congress later that month.

The idea is that all phones should charge using the same micro-USB connector, and universal chargers to feed this will become available – but not until next year, and the universal charger is not expected to penetrate to 50 percent of phones until 2012.

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