Apple caused a big furore a few weeks ago when they announced they’d withdrawn their products from EPEAT, an American system for rating the environmental friendliness of tech products. Cue an embarrassing U-turn a few days later after a flurry of complaints from eco-conscious customers, according to a letter sent by Senior Vice President Bob Mansfield, who called the decision “a mistake”. Apple made a serious misjudgement, but proved that customers want not only faster and cheaper, but greener gadgets as well.
More juice is needed than ever before to run power hungry apps, and smartphones today use up a lot more energy than the black-and-white bricks of the late 90s. O2 have recently launched an Eco Rating, giving their phones a score from 1 to 5 on criteria such as hazardous chemicals and energy use. For example, the HTC Desire C receives a respectable 4. However, nearly every phone seems to score somewhere between 3.5 and 4, and some aren’t included at all. Is this a useful tool for customers, or does it just further complicate the headache of choosing a new phone?
Late last year, Greenpeace ranked tech companies on their eco-credentials. Maker of BlackBerry phones RIM came out bottom, with a miserable 1.6 out of 10. Samsung, makers of this year’s hot smartphone the Galaxy S III, fare slightly better with a 4.1. It’s Nokia and Apple who are really leading the pack, with a 4.6 and a 4.9 respectively. But there’s clearly still a long way to go. In the meantime, what can you do to lessen your environmental footprint with the smartphone you already have?
There’s been an explosion of green apps recently. Seasons (£1.49 for iPhone) will tell you what fruit and veg is currently in season in the UK, allowing you to avoid wasteful imports. Eco Charger (free, for Android) is a nifty little freebie, aiming to reduce the power wasted when fully charged phones are left plugged in. It lets you set audio or vibration alarms to go off when your phone’s ready for action – you can even set it to repeat if you’re in the bath.
Unfortunately there’s no magic solution – the best way to cut energy use is to be prudent with your gadget. Make sure you don’t have power-hogging apps left open in the background, especially if you’ve finished using them. Forgetting to turn GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi off when you leave the house can also be fatal for your battery. You can usually dim the screen in the evenings as well – it really accounts for a massive chunk of your phone’s energy usage.
Of course, even if you trim your energy use, it’s where the energy is coming from that’s most important. Once you plug your new mobile into the wall, if the electricity is still coming from a dirty great coal power station, the recyclable box it came in isn’t going to make much of a difference anyway.