Most consumers select cell phones based on features and pay relatively little attention to the environmental and social impacts associated with their production and use. But these impacts are significant and are similar to those associated with the entire consumer electronics sector. They include impacts associated with the energy use needed to power devices, material selection and sourcing of raw materials, working conditions in assembly plants, and end-of-life device management.
Note that the science is still out on whether cell phone usage creates a health risk, so GoodGuide does not assign a health score to different products. If you prefer to take precautions, we make it easy to select phones that exhibit the lowest Radio Frequency emissions (as measured by their Specific Absorption Rate). You can also reduce exposure by using a headset or speaker and not wearing a phone on your body.
Buying Guide: What to look for
Phones with positive environmental features (e.g., four or five star rated chargers, free of brominated fire retardants or PVC) or phones that have been certified by telcom carriers as meeting green standards, such as Sprint's Eco-logo.
Phones from manufacturers that have good Social scores, indicating they are working with their supply chain to ensure production workers are treated fairly.
Buying Guide: What to avoid
Avoid products that lack any information about their environmental attributes – this is a signal the manufacturer is not focused on improving the environmental performance of their operations and products. Only a small fraction of the cell phones on the market today promote any environmental feature whatsoever.
Be skeptical about manufacturer claims that they offer Energy Star certified chargers (this program for cell phone chargers recently ended), or chargers that simply say they’re “efficient” with no supporting information.
Scoring Cell Phones
Environment scores are assigned to cell phones by combining product-level environmental indicators (weighted at 50%) with company-level environmental indicators (weighted at 50%).
The product-level environmental assessment is based on indicators of:
Energy management, as measured by a phone's standby power consumption;
Materials management, specifically the use of eco-materials in a phone or its packaging;
Toxic waste, specifically inclusion of polyvinyl chloride or brominated flame retardants in a phone;
Product management, as measured by third-party certification standards; and
Environmental disclosure, as measured by the availability of an environmental fact sheet for a product.
The company-level environmental assessment is based on GoodGuide's standard indicators for rating companies (weighted at 50%), enhanced with two additional indicators that capture issues that are specific to the electronics industry (weighted at 50%), covering:
Green production practices, including the precautionary principle and reduced reliance on hazardous substances, and
Extended producer responsibility, as measured by a company's takeback recycling program.