How Green Is My Phone?

At the end of 2008 we predicted four manufacturers would launch “green” phones this year. Motorola’s got off to an early start, unveiling the W233 Renew carbon-neutral phone at CES in Las Vegas. Green’s going to be in vogue at Mobile World Congress next month and I’m sure we’ll hear more from phone makers and environmental pressure groups about the ecological impact of a billion more phones being produced over the next 12 months.

In previous posts I’ve referred to Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics scoring system, which judges manufacturers’ eco-credentials. Nokia recently moved into first place thanks to its handset recycling program. While I don’t doubt Greenpeace’s motives, the more I look at the findings, the more I think a lot of the ratings are based on good PR.

Nokia should be commended for its actions, of course, and any improvements are always welcome. As more people become concerned about green issues, it’s important to understand the methodology behind the Greenpeace rating. Greenpeace gives an analysis of its findings for each company. To me, Nokia’s score breakdown reads like a corporate press release rather than objective comment.

Greenpeace says: “Each score is based solely on public information on the companies’ website. Companies found not to be following their published policies will be deducted penalty point in future versions of the guide.”

It strikes me that to score well companies simply have to put out regular press releases about their efforts to go green. The results in Greenpeace’s guide are skewed significantly when new information comes to light. Back in March 2007, Lenovo was in first position. Fast forward to November 2008 and Lenovo is in last place. Can a company really fall so far behind in its approach to saving the environment? Or has it just put out the wrong type of green PR?

As protecting the environment becomes a bigger priority, Greenpeace’s guide should be an accurate and useful way to monitor manufacturers’ progress. All cynicism aside, anything that helps improve manufacturing and recycling activities should be applauded.