New International Sustainability Standard for Cell Phones On Its Way

cell phone photo

Photo by Guwashi999 via Flickr Creative Commons

UL Environment is working to develop a new set of standards for mobile devices that will green up the industry worldwide. UL is an independent evaluator of products, ensuring they meet certain standards, and the new-ish environmental arm looks at issues such as materials sourcing, energy use, and recyclability. Considering we have some 5 billion cell phones on the planet right now, with more rolling off the manufacturing belts every day, and that they're used in nearly every corner of the world, holding electronics manufacturers to certain sustainability standards is an important step forward.Sprint is currently the only wireless carrier to work with UL Environment on the standards, but hopefully others will join in the conversation as the first draft of requirements are released at the end of Q1.

The newly rated devices will be considered "environmentally preferred mobile devices," according to a press release about the announcement. From recent research, it seems that there will be an audience for such "preferred" devices. A survey done in late 2009 by ABI showed that most consumers would buy a greener cell phone if they were readily available in the marketplace.

According to the release, the standard will consider the entire life cycle of cell phones, from raw material extraction to disposal. This means issues such as conflict minerals (minerals mined in conflict zones, which further fuels the wars) all the way to e-waste dumps will be addressed. So too will energy efficiency, using recycled materials in the making of the device, minimizing packaging waste, as well as the health and environment within manufacturing plants will be analyzed during evaluation.

Similar to EPEAT, the rankings will be listed as silver, gold and platinum. It's a smart idea because it unifies ranking systems and makes green products easier for consumers to identify. And of course, the easier it is for consumers to identify a green product, the more likely they are to take that into consideration when purchasing.

EPEAT so far is working to expand the products it verifies, but it's a slow-moving process. For now, desktops, laptops and monitors, and the organization is moving into televisions, printers and other devices. However, mobile devices don't seem to be on its list quite yet. So, it's great that UL Environment is working to get some standards in place.

Thus far, we only have the "green" phones that individual companies put out, such as Samsung's and Motorola's various models, which mainly just have a percentage of their plastic casing made of recycled plastics and their packaging is from recycled materials. Beyond what the companies advertise as "green," cell phone buyers have very little to go off of when making decisions. Having a ranking system will be a great resource for conscientious consumers.

We'll keep tabs on the standards as they roll out.

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