Sustainable Smartphone

Green Manx phone box
Green phone?  Image via Wikipedia

After 18 months with my HTC Desire I can now upgrade to a new smartphone and I have been doing some investigating into what’s the most sustainable and smartest option out there.

Obviously the most sustainable thing to do would be to stick with what I have.  After all, it is a working smartphone.  There are two problems with that though.  Firstly, like many consumer products, it wasn’t built for long life.  As I have experienced with many phones, after a year the battery life started to noticeably deteriorate.  Now it struggles to last a full day of moderate usage.  I could buy a new battery, but battery life is just one of the ailments of this ageing handset.  In general, it doesn’t have the zip it used to have, and suffers from periodic hangs and crashes.

The second issue is that the pace of technological innovation and advances in smartphone technology is such that within six months, what was a cutting edge device outdone.  One specific example of relevance to my HTC Desire is the regular updating of operating systems.  My Desire runs version 2.2 of the Android operating system.  Version 4 was launched by Google just recently.  The latest handsets also have bigger screens, higher resolution screens, additional functionality, more memory, faster processors… the list goes on.

So, now that I have taken the decision to upgrade, what features do I want to have on my new smartphone?  The following are absolute requirements.  Any phone that can’t do these simply is not smart enough.

  • Good call quality (a fundamental basic)
  • Web browsing, with WiFi and 3G connectivity
  • A reasonable range of apps available
  • Access to work email and my Hotmail account
  • A calendar that will sync with my work Outlook calendar
  • A camera that shoots decent quality stills and video
  • Mapping
  • Music player
  • At least 16GB of storage, or the ability to supplement the onboard storage with a memory card to achieve at least 16GB in total.

That probably doesn’t rule out any specific operating systems for smartphones, but to simplify, I can immediately say that I am simply not interested in BlackBerry, iPhone or any of Nokia’s Symbian phones.  They are either not compatible enough with other systems I use or they are just not cool and attractive enough.  That leaves just Android and Windows Phone.  I had stated earlier that I was leaning towards going with Windows Phone, but things have moved on and I have been distinctly unimpressed with some of the new handsets launched for Windows Phone.  That, and the eventual release of a dedicated Hotmail app for Android, has brought Android right back into the frame.

So I decided to look next at various handset makers and their sustainability performance.  Greenpeace publishes an annual Guide to Greener Electronics.  In this, they “rank the 18 top manufacturers of personal computers, mobile phones, TVs and games consoles according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change.”  The version I have been looking at is almost a year old, but the next version isn’t due out til next month so it will have to do.  Also, having looked at this on occasion over the last few years, there doesn’t tend to be a lot of movement, with good companies staying near the top and poor performers near the bottom consistently.  Looking a the rankings and scores, Nokia are in the top position (score: 7.5), Sony Ericsson in second (score: 6.9), Samsung fifth (5.3), Motorola sixth (5.1), Apple ninth (4.9) and LG 14th (3.5).

That report focussed just on environmental issues though.  Looking more broadly at sustainability, earlier this year Corporate Knights produced its sixth annual Global 100 list of the most sustainable large corporations in the world.  This list ranked corporations using a set of Key Performance Indicators covering environmental, social, governance and financial data.  In terms of smartphone makers, Nokia was ranked fourth, Sony 30th and Samsung 93rd.

The Good Guide app, which I have recommended previously, against scores Nokia top in its cell phone category.  Motorola seems to do ok, with Samsung, Apple and HTC lingering some way behind.  BlackBerry gets a very poor score indeed.  Specific issues noted in the Good Guide and which form the basis for its scores include a very low score for Samsung on quality, safety and performance management, a low score for Apple in terms of its ethical policies and performance and a low score for HTC on labour and human rights.

The Free2Work app looks more specifically at labour issues.  Unfortunately in its Electronics category, only one maker of smartphones is listed, Apple.  They have been scored ‘D’, which is what most of the electronics companies listed have been scored.  Only HP score better and that is just a ‘C’.  Criticisms it levels at Apple include a lack of transparency in its supply chain and supplier monitoring and a lack of a requirement placed on contractors and subcontractors to pay workers a living wage.  It would be easy to say that Apple should be able to do better given how wealthy it is and the substantial markups on its products, but without comparator data for other suppliers I will refrain from being too critical of them.

Finally, from a purely allegorical evidence base, Nokia has a great reputation for producing good quality, long-lasting phones (my wife is still using one she got over three years ago).  Going back to my earlier point about longevity, this could also be seen as an important factor in choosing a sustainable smartphone.

Nokia Lumia 800

So in terms of sustainability, all signs seem to be pointing to Nokia.  It is good then that Nokia have just launched a new smartphone using the Windows Phone OS.  Granted that the Lumia 800 is not the highest specced smartphone out there, but it meets all of the minimum requirements set out above and looks good at the same time.

Sustainable smartphone?  You can’t do better than the Nokia Lumia 800 in my opinion.

David Mitchell’s Soapbox

Comedian David Mitchell is doing a series of videos for the Guardian newspaper about a variety of topical subjects.  Two recent episodes have been on environmental topics.

In this first video, David talks about using market forces to drive sustainability, in focussing on the short shelf life of cheap modern goods and air travel.

In terms of my ‘smart sustainable home’, it has made me give some more thought to the issue of longevity of furniture, fixtures and fittings.

In this second video, David takes on climate change doubters.  He makes the point, in his inimitable style, that in addition to the scientific consensus that man-made climate change is happening, from a precautionary point of view we should tackle climate change because we aren’t sure it isn’t happening.  A very good line of argument indeed.

When confronted with climate change sceptics, I have always sought to broaden the argument to include other problems relating to burning fossil fuels.  For instance, carbon dioxide isn’t the only thing coming out of chimneys and car exhaust pipes.  Nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are proven to cause health problems.  So surely, making more efficient use of fossil fuels and switching to alternatives must be a good thing.

Fossil fuels will one day run out.  Already we are having to go to more remote locations to take advantage of more difficult-to-extract sources.  Some would even say that global politics and wars are ruled by the availability of oil.  This too suggests that making more efficient use of fossil fuels and switching to alternatives must be a good thing.

Finally, fossil fuels are increasingly expensive.  Using less not only is good for the environment, but is good for your pocket too.

The whole series of David Mitchell’s Soapbox videos can be found here.

Shedding a Light on Appropriate Technology

Appropriate technology is, according to Wikipedia“technology that is designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economical aspects of the community it is intended for.”

For me, appropriate technology is about using the materials and human resources that are to hand to provide a technological solution.  Basically, don’t over-engineer technological solutions.

My sister sent me this link to a Youtube video last week and it is a great example of appropriate technology.  It features a slum community in the Philippines where they are using something as simple as a plastic bottle, water and a little bleach (to prevent algal growth) to bring light into the homes of people who cannot afford to use electrical lighting.  The Youtube clip is approaching a million hits and the BBC have also been out there to see this in action.

What gets me excited about this sort of thing is not just the immediate consequences, in this case lighting someone’s home, but the greater potential that it has.  Light in the home can lead to a better quality of life but also brings opportunities for increased productivity and education that can lift people out of poverty.  Quite simply, the ability to read at home for me is the greatest value that this can bring.

If you are interested in finding out more about appropriate technology, there are some great charities out there, such as Practical Action, that work to promote development through promotion of appropriate technology.

The 5 Best CSR and Sustainability Smartphone Apps (via Dystopian Present)

Some smart tools to help with the sustainability drive! I’ve tried three of these apps, Seafood Watch, Good Guide and Free2Work, and they’re quite good. They have all been developed in the US, so the focus is on American products (or fish), but when looking at global brands they are still useful tools.

The 5 Best CSR and Sustainability Smartphone Apps Quick post today to share a handful of great apps I’ve recently found.  Then, back to the mountain of homework. The proliferation of smart phone apps has finally moved into the social sector.  A handful of leaders have deployed apps to efficiently share the information they already offer.  This will be a great tool for transparency going forward.  Apps will offer the public the information they need, at the point of purchase, to make choices that … Read More

via Dystopian Present

Smart Sustainable Home – A Methodology

New beech leaves, Grib Forest in the northern ...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been giving some thought to how I will approach making my home and life smart and sustainable.  It’s been quite difficult to come up with something robust and systematic as this is a project that will be ongoing over many years, rather than being a discrete project with a finite period of implementation.

Central to the project will be the formulation of a vision.  This will set the scope and parameters of the project (i.e. how much of my life will it extend to and what I want to achieve overall).  Then, for each mini-project or significant purchase, a specification will be prepared for what it needs to achieve (for example this could be the purchase of a new television or a project such as getting a new kitchen).  By their nature, specifications will be performance-based.  Performance will have technology elements (e.g. a mobile phone may be required to have 3G connectivity) and sustainability elements (e.g. a new kitchen may be required to have all wood from sustainable sources).  The setting of specifications could get tricky when technological requirements and sustainability goals conflict, but in these cases I will try to have to revert to the vision to try to keep me on the correct path.

After applying the specification it may be that a number of products meet the brief.  In these cases, the shortlist of products will be subjected to a comapritive appraisal of their sustainability performance.  This is something I have some experience of through my work, and I will be looking to develop an appraisal method to guide me in this respect.

So, going forward the first thing I need to do is set the vision.  This will require a certain amount of crystal ball gazing to see where technology is headed over the coming years and that is the next big thing I will be focussing on.

unsafe factory conditions at samsung?

View from Time Warner Center

Image via Wikipedia

cnet uk posted a story earlier this week referring to an AFP report regarding alleged unsafe conditions at a samsung plant in korea.  the article states:

“A South Korean court last month ruled there was a connection between the deaths of the two workers and conditions in the semiconductor factory, which uses harmful chemicals. Samsung has hit back at the judgement, citing a study that it commissioned itself that concluded the factories were safe.”

samsung refers to a study it commissioned which found its operation to be within acceptable industry standards, but has not made this report public.  i am also sceptical when the term “acceptable industry standards” is used.  it almost implies that some level of harm is acceptable.  contrast this to the UK construction industry, where i have some experience.  despite significant hazards the aim is consistently for zero accidents, with one of my clients stating “we believe that all harm is preventable.”

i currently own a samsung tv, and was quite excited about the forthcoming samsung windows phone, but will need to look closely at these allegations relative to the performance of competitors when coming to choose my next mobile phone.

Which is the most ethical bank? (via Make Wealth History)

money makes the world go round, or so they used to say. but how to get your money to work for the world? Make Wealth History has done a good piece about ethical banking, republished below. i for one will be looking to move my banking needs away from the traditional high street banks and over to something more ethical in the near future.  though, like many people, when it comes to big ticket items like my mortgage, the cost may be a bigger factor for me than ethical considerations.

Which is the most ethical bank? As we’ve all learned this year, in case there was any doubt, when we place our money in a bank it doesn’t stay in a vault somewhere. It goes out to play on the stock market, in loans and mortgages, in all manner of deals and agreements. Banks have always used their customers’ money, and expected their customers to ask no questions as long as they delivered the interest at the end of the quarter. (See this post on Darfur to see what can happen wit … Read More

via Make Wealth History

my current home – sustainability

the flat i live in was built in 2006.  it has a number of features that mean it’s pretty energy efficient by nature of its design.  it has flats above and below and to either side, meaning there are only two surfaces of the ‘cuboid’ through which to lose significant amounts of heat.  it has big windows, but good double glazing.  the windows may well still be responsible for the biggest heat loss, but we get loads of natural light pouring in reducing the need for artificial lighting.  i’ve already mentioned the fantastic waterloo sunsets we get every evening.

http://photozou.jp/photo/show/262775/27916981

a real life waterloo sunset

the one thing i am surprised at is that the block of flats i live in has no natural gas supply for heating, hot water and cooking.  unfortunately this means everything is electric and therefore more carbon intensive.  to mitigate this i have chosen ecotricity as my electricity supplier.  the electricity i get is still just normal ‘grid’ electricity, the same as anyone else, but at least i know that the money i spend gets invested in clean forms of power like wind energy.
so with heating and lighting largely covered, there’s not a huge amount i can do in terms of big ticket energy savings.  our flat came with all white goods supplied, so we had no part in selecting energy and water efficient models.  in fairness, they were all A rated, so without going to great expense, there is no sense in replacing those.

as i’ve mentioned in a previous post, our location, in waterloo, central london, provides great access to public transport, with two tube stations and a multitude of bus routes on our doorstep.  for the five years we’ve lived here we haven’t had a car, nor have we had need of one.  and although we have great access to public transport, most of my journeys are on foot.  i can walk to work in 35 minutes, and the south bank, covent garden and the west end are all within easy walking distance for all my leisure and shopping needs.

looking across the thames to waterloo

looking across the thames to waterloo

my biggest sustainability failing, i have to admit, is recycling.  but i do have to apportion at least some of the blame to my waste collection authority, lambeth council.  when we first moved to this area, i was full of enthusiasm to recycle and even bought a special bin that hid nicely in a cupboard and yet helped us segregate materials.  the trouble was that we filled our council-provided recycling bags within a couple of days.  what then were we supposed to do with them?  according to the council, they were supposed to be put out on the street only every sunday evening, ahead of the collection early on monday morning.  but where is anyone living in a compact flat (as a good proportion of lambeth residents do) supposed to store bags of (recyclable) rubbish for days on end?  with non-recyclables, you just chuck each full bag in the wheelie bin outside as it becomes full but there was no such provision for recyclables.  this was the question i put to lambeth council and over four years later i have yet to get a response.

in perhaps another peculiar design move, my block of flats has a single water meter for all occupants, so we just pay for water prorated on the proportion of floor area wach flat occupies.  therefore there is little incentive to save on water becuase you have such little influence on the bill.  my household with three occupants having daily showers/baths will pay the same as a theoretical single man with an adversity to personal hygiene in the same size flat.  and regardless of financial incentive, apart from the basics such as turning taps off while toothbrushing and not spending overly long in the shower, we are restricted in other potential savings.  we have no direct access to our cistern as it integrated in to the bathroom behind some tiles.  when replacing heating elements in our hot water boiler, the plumber noted that it is possibly oversized for even the three of us.  with limited resources and a potential house move on the horizon that is not something i would consider replacing, even with something more efficient.

in terms of sustainability, i believe that the aspects discussed above are all that i have within my direct control for my current home.  there are others down the supply chain, particularly in areas such as food, clothing and technology, where i might be able to exert some choice or even influence, and that is undoubtedly an area i will be exploring in more detail in future posts, but my influence there is limted as an individual consumer.  other aspects are completely outside my scope.  biodiversity, for example, because i neither own nor have any sort of stake in any outdoor space.  but outdoor space is a requirement for my future home, so this, and other aspects will form part of the agenda!