How Green is Your Smartphone?

The ever-elusive "green" smartphone may seem like a pipe dream, but there is good reason to believe the industry is making progress.
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Even if you make every effort to minimize your carbon footprint, chances are your smartphone is harming the environment.

The battery, for example, is likely made of lithium, a potentially toxic substance that shouldn't be thrown out in the garbage, but often is. Almost every landfill is loaded with lithium batteries. And speaking of batteries, if yours is typical of most smartphones, it probably needs to be recharged daily, cumulatively consuming a massive amount of coal-generated electricity. Additionally, some of the most basic parts of a smartphone -- such as the circuit board -- are likely made with any number of hazardous substances.

The ever-elusive "green" smartphone may seem like a pipe dream, but there is good reason to believe the industry is making progress. Earlier this year, Sprint released its fourth so-called "eco-friendly" device, the Samsung Replenish, which is made with more than 80% recyclable materials. The device also uses "fewer environmentally sensitive materials."

Beyond Samsung, other makers are stepping up to consider how their products are designed and sourced, and third-party groups exist to provide consumers some advice about what to shop for. Beyond the actual phones, developers are even making apps for us to become even more conscious consumers. Understanding why and how we consume energy remains part of the process to living in a greener, smarter planet.

Battery life has also improved somewhat in recent years and is poised to make significant progress in the future. Researchers at Northwestern University have reportedly created an electrode for lithium-ion batteries that can extend their lives by 10 times after only charging them for one-tenth of the time it typically takes now. The upshot: In the future, you may have a smartphone battery that only needs to be recharged once a week -- if that. We've done it for automobiles, so can't phones be next?

In some ways, smartphones may be more environmentally friendly than laptops or desktop computers. They certainly consume less electricity. With about 1.4 billion Internet users worldwide, about 46% of them access the Internet from both their PC and mobile phones, suggesting we're online pretty regularly. These figures are only likely to grow higher.

Along these lines of thinking, updating your Facebook status from a mobile phone consumes about 100 times less energy than if you were to do the same activity from a desktop PC. And if only 100 million people were to use mobile phones instead of desktop computers to browse the Internet one hour a day, the amount of energy saved would be roughly equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 430,000 cars.

I'm not asking you to switch to using your smartphone instead of your PC, but think about the possibilities. With growth in mobile computing ramping up at astronomical rates worldwide, more and more consumers will be part of this evolution. And if we depend upon more efficient batteries and streamlined designs, we can be smarter in how we use energy and broadband resources for our phones. Overall, we'll be better equipped to handle a more complex mobile future.

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