New technologies are part of our daily lives and their impact on our lives will continue to increase. Unfortunately, as you must already know from reading our articles, the digital sector generates a lot of pollution. And it is not really a model of ethical behavior either, the smartphone industry is a perfect example of this.
So, when you want to choose a responsible smartphone, which brand should you turn to?
How to choose an environmentally friendly and ethical phone
When it comes to choosing a smartphone, consumers don’t always know which one is right for them. When considering raw performance, ergonomics, design, camera and price, what are the criteria for making the right choice? Obviously, it depends on each person’s needs. But there is one criterion that is often overlooked and that should be at the forefront of such a polluting industry: the environmental impact of the smartphone and the brand’s commitment to responsibility .
The deplorable working conditions, the depletion of scarce natural resources and the release of toxic substances into the environment involved in the manufacture of smartphones not only hurts us financially, it also hurts the planet. So, while consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of high-tech products, it’s sometimes difficult to obtain clear and reliable information about what individual brands are doing in this area.
The aim of this article is to make your research easier. We have selected some information that we consider relevant, but we strongly encourage you to continue to do your own research, so you can form your own opinion.
The most responsible smartphone brands
Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Nokia or Blackberry – which brand of smartphone is the most responsible? The short answer is: according to the Guide to Greener Electronics published by Greenpeace in 2017, Fairphone and Apple are at the top of the list.
Tim Cook’s company freely reports its environmental measures, and Apple’s Sustainability Reports are generally quite comprehensive and provide information on the materials used in the latest iPhones (and the percentage of recycled materials), CO2 emissions, water and rare-earth consumption, and more. These measures include energy consumption from increasingly renewable energy sources and compliance with the RoHS Directive, which aims to limit the presence of toxic substances in electronic devices. And that’s not all, because today, almost 100% of Apple’s foundries are certified conflict-free.
But especially when it comes to its commitment to labor rights, the Apple brand has difficulty standing out from the crowd, mainly because the company still shifts most of its responsibility onto its subcontractors and suppliers.
The Dutch company, Fairphone, is a special case, since the brand is openly committed to these issues. Laying the foundations for an ethical, easily repairable phone, using materials from fair trade channels – as far as possible, and the company is quite transparent about this – is the company’s raison d’être. Fairphone therefore deserves a separate article. Maybe even two articles.
Blackberry et Nokia
More surprisingly, according to a ranking of smartphone manufacturers conducted by The Ethical Company Organisation, Blackberry and Nokia are also at the top of the list when it comes to respect for the environment and human rights. Blackberry has a very impressive score, placing the Canadian company just behind Fairphone.
These brands are still lagging behind
Among the smartphone market leaders, some are still struggling to implement sustainable initiatives in their manufacturing processes. And, as you can imagine, this is the case for popular brands, such as Samsung and Huawei.
Well, to say the least, Samsung does not shine in terms of its environmental and social commitment. But let’s not speak badly of the Korean company’s efforts. For example, the company has set a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the life cycle of its smartphones.
While this effort is certainly to be applauded, it’s hard to see how the company is going to meet this target, since it hasn’t yet planned any practical means to increase the proportion of renewable energies. We also know that the company is struggling to reduce the amount of hazardous substances in its smartphones.
However, there are a few good points: the brand is putting into place means to identify the origin of its raw materials and most of its suppliers are certified conflict-free. The company seems to be concerned about working conditions in its mines for raw materials, especially for cobalt, which is mainly extracted in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But here too, there is no rush to take practical measures.
Let’s just say that Samsung barely meets the standards. However, the company severely lacks transparency on the measures it has taken and the measures it is planning to take in the future.
Although the Chinese company has put targets in place to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, overall, its long-term initiatives are still not very ambitious. The company is only just beginning to embark on a more environmentally friendly approach. For example, its decision not to use polluting substances in its products is still relatively recent.
With regard to the sourcing of its supplies, the company complies with the standards of the Dodd-Frank Act, but it does not seem sufficiently concerned about the consequences of the boycott on the livelihoods of people in areas controlled by armed groups.
In the end, the company continues to remain silent on many issues and does not seem to be fully committed to an environmentally responsible approach. In short, Huawei is not the greenest choice.
So, which brand of smartphone is the most environmentally friendly and responsible? Overall, only a few companies really stand out from the crowd. Fairphone, of course, will remain the first choice of the responsible consumer. Fairphone is the only brand that is totally committed to all aspects that go into making a responsible phone.
Apple, on the other hand, has put into place a few measures in recent years that also make it a very good choice. And let’s not forget Blackberry and Nokia.
A smartphone may be as environmentally friendly as possible, but software obsolescence caused by regular updates is driving consumers to throw phones, which are just a few years old, and still fully functional, into the trash. That’s why it’s worth taking a look at the free alternatives to Android or iOS if your smartphone has been sidelined.