Among business users, the closest you can get to a discussion about the eco-friendliness of a smartphone is battery life. And even then, it's a purely pragmatic discussion that amounts to: "Will this phone make it through the day?"
Unlike appliances such as dishwashers and fridges, you won't normally come across clear eco-friendly ratings denoting how much energy a smartphone uses. What's more, there's been plenty of talk in the past about the materials used in smartphones: rare metals and harmful chemicals tend to make the smartphone industry a rather environmentally unfriendly business.
Aside from power consumption, conflict minerals are particularly problematic. As it stands, almost every tech company you can name produces hardware that contains minerals taken from regions of conflict in the Congo. While some firms are taking steps towards reducing this, the issue is still rife, and it's not as simple as just finding an alternative source.
It's not an issue that's regularly discussed by the general public, mostly because they probably aren't aware of the issues as there is no easy way to find out how eco-friendly your device is.
The lack of clarity for consumers should soon change, however. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an offshoot of the UN, is working alongside a group of smartphone makers including Apple, Samsung and Nokia to create a universally recognised rating system for smartphones. But who will benefit?
Bettina Tratz-Ryan, a Gartner research vice president, told V3 it isn't just a marketing exercise for the handset makers and mobile networks involved. "Initially, it will be more important for the manufacturers and the mobile service providers who want to show in their sustainability and environmental management reports that they look for eco standards and environmentally green technology."
She added that it will also help the bottom line, with better-designed phones reducing the costs of refurbishment and repairs.
It's interesting to note that Apple is involved with the scheme. The Cupertino firm always seems to do their own thing, ignoring the unofficial rule that smartphones should all make use of a standard micro-USB port to save on the disposal of thousands of tonnes of useless chargers, and instead choosing to adopt yet another proprietary connector for their most recent generations of iPads and iPhones.
Last year, Apple chose to opt out of EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) in order to take its own direction with its manufacturing methods only to opt back in again two days later. But nonetheless, here they are, seemingly taking an active part in the development of this new, customer-facing environmental scheme and working alongside other manufacturers.
Tratz-Ryan said the new scheme will take some time to filter down to consumers, especially as it may see the spread of smart technologies, which could tell devices when to turn off automatically, among other things. She likened this to technology that switches off the engines of some vehicles when they are stationary.
"Many drivers of new cars with automatic turn off during wait time at traffic lights were uncomfortable at first, but now this is a normality. We will see the same thing with eco-certified technology. The positioning will come through social media, portals, service domains as well as conventional marketing material."
It'll be very interesting to not only see what form this new scheme takes, but how manufacturers respond.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who wants a green iPhone 5C
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