We’ve put together a list of the most eco friendly phones you can get right now to help you pick the best one for you. This list will be reviewed at least once per year and we’ll add any new phones that deserve your attention. Phones may also drop out of this list if they’re superseded by an updated model, or they become obsolete.
To set a high bar, we’re going to jump in with a concept phone from British mobile telephone network O2. O2 Recycle and designer Sean Miles teamed up back in 2015 to create a prototype made entirely from recycled mobile phone parts and grass from the pitch of Twickenham rugby stadium.
Using grass from a rugby pitch in a phone might sound a bit crazy, but when you consider the fact O2 have been sponsoring English rugby since the mid 90s when they were known as BT Cellnet. If this is how they can sell green phones to sports fans, we’re all ears.
The iPhone 11 certainly looks great, with its Liquid Retina HD display and a rounded body that feels totally natural when you hold it in your hand. It does actually come in the colour green, but is the iPhone 11 a green mobile phone?
Taking the juicy bits from Apple’s iPhone 11 environmental report, we put together a few of its stand-out features. You can download their pdf here.
iPhone 11’s Green Features
100% recycled rare earth elements in the Taptic Engine 19
100% recycled tin in the solder of the main logic board.
35% or more recycled plastic in multiple components.
Final assembly uses 100% renewable energy
Less than 7% plastic in packaging
Final assembly suppliers committed to 100% renewable energy for Apple production
The first thing you see is the box the phone comes in. It’s fitting that the box is made from recycled paper or is sourced from sustainably managed forests. Elsewhere in the packaging, plastic use has been minimised, resulting in up-to 93% of it being sustainable wood fibre based.
Jumping from the first thing to see to the last thing you’ll need to do with your iPhone, Apple offer some great recycling options. Their disassembly robots can take 15 different types of iPhone apart, allowing them to re-use the rare earths and other recyclable materials. You can trade in your old iPhone and buy a new one directly from Apple, using to a gift store credit you get in return.
Using Your iPhone
When you actually fire up your iPhone 11, despite the screen having an amazing 625 nits max brightness rating, it still manages to use power efficiently. Apple have their own reliability and environmental testing labs that tested the iPhone 11 before it was released to customers. As you use it, the original iOS13 helped to optimise charging and battery life to help reduce battery ageing. And when we reduce battery aging, we don’t need to replace them as often which is great for the environment.
Materials Environmental Impact
Only 25% of rare earth used in the iPhone 11 are completely recycled, the rest may not be.
Although final assembly uses (or will soon use) 100% renewable energy, what about the rest? Do the recyclers of rare earth and tin for example, use 100% fossil fuels? Do the final assembly facilities also fail to use 100% renewable energy 100% of the time? Will it be just enough to cover their work on iPhones?
Apple have also made sure they restrict the use of hundreds of harmful chemicals and substances, improving iPhone 11’s environmentally friendly credentials.
It’s clear that Apple have been making a lot of progress and want to make even more in the future. We don’t think the iPhone 11 is perfect, but the most important thing is recognising the transparency Apple have brought to the table. Of course we want to push for more, have to recognise that Apple are moving in the right direction while not compromising the quality of their product.
Apple were previously taking a pounding when it came to their green credentials up until the launch of the iPhone 4. Greenpeace had been giving them a hard time since 2006 about their phones and about how unfriendly they are (or were) to the environment. And it didn’t help when Apple’s mobile offering dropped out of O2’s green list last in 2010. Perhaps that pressure in the past is why Apple now have a clear aim of “reducing our impact on climate change, conserving important resources, and using safer materials.” We hope to see them continue down that path.
The fourth edition of the Fairphone comes after 9 great years supplying what is arguably the most environmentally friendly and literally fair mobile phone for their suppliers and consumers. Founder Bas van Abel saw the origin of the metals used in mobile phones and the terrible scenes he witnessed inspired him to do better.
Now we’re onto the fourth generation of a green phone produced with the intention of being fair to the environment, the people who produce the phone and the consumers who buy the phones.
Fairphone’s manufacturers have a simple outlook on the production of mobile phones. “If we can run a profitable company that’s kinder to human beings and to nature, why can’t you?” With that in mind, we already know their intention is to provide the best green features they can, reduce the environmental impact of phone production and also improve the life of people working at all levels of the supply chain.
Take a closer look at their philosophy here.
Fairphone 4’s Green Features
Basically everything about this phone is a green feature. We think the best thing about the Fairphone series is the ability to repair and replace parts inside them for new ones easily. This way you don’t need a whole new handset with new rare earth elements just because you broke some buttons. Or even a screen repair which is possible on many devices but is super difficult and impossible on an increasing number of phones rendering them useless, can be done really easily thanks to the Fairphone 4’s modular design.
As for new features, Fairphone 4 now has a larger screen and a faster processor. This kind of upgrade often drains the battery, so they need their 6.3 inch screen’s 1080×2340 resolution screen to be powered efficiently which is practically achieved with a decent size replaceable 3,905 mAh battery that a can get a 50 percent charge from close to zero in about 30 minutes is you use a 20 watt charger.
You can even keep upgrading the Fairphone 4 after it has been replaced by the new generation and beyond just becasue it was designed to be that way! As a basic user, there may come a time when you can’t upgrade this phone because it’s no longer supported (as happened with Fairphone 1, but lessons were learned and steps have been taken to support phones for much further into the future), no doubt thanks to the modular design, more advanced users who are happy to do a bit of DIY will get their devices to last even longer. It even has an unlocked bootloader with future LineageOS support, so tecchies can get their money’s worth too.
Materials Environmental Impact
Materials used in production of Fairphones are recycled in a lot of cases like the main body and of course the rear which is 100% made from recycled plastic. The whole phone uses 50% -75% post-consumer recycled plastics.
Not adding chargers or cables to the packaging means they take fewer new resources from the earth and encourage us to recycle our own old equipment.
The company strives to ensure all possible materials used in the manufacturing of the phone are ethically and sustainably sourced. A great example of this is the gold used on Fairphone’s printed circuit boards (PCBs) is Fairtrade certified, just like their connectors, cameras and speakers.
Gone in Fairphone 5 is the headphone jack, which will same some materials. Though it is something that annoys people, it does save materials in the phone and maybe also reduces the number of wires that are made and thrown in the bin when they stop working. There are now great wireless earphone options and there can be the potential for returning and recycling such high-quailty and more expensive equipment because we can already recycle headphones anyway.
Human Impact of Production
By keeping track of the supply chain as far as possible, Fairphone are able to improve conditions and demand improvements from suppliers. Fairphone set out to implement and incentivise behaviours that build up on long-term relationships.
Paying a living wage comes top of their goals and Fairphone pay living wage bonuses directly to front-line employees. Everything seems to be done for long-term development which will make sure working conditions will improve over time. Not only are they thinking of factories, also they want to improve conditions in mining facilities.
Fairphone have made a great step in accountability and we hope this step is one all other smartphone manufacturers are going to take also.
Members of the Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA), they are aiming to tackle poor working conditions and child labour head on. Mine improvement plans are drawn up all the time, encouraging change there and making a sustainable gold supply chain where the end product can be traced right back to source.
Not only do they add recycled materials to their new phones, they try to recycle old phones as much as they can. Fairphone can help to re-use old phones and spare parts by recycling one of them when you get a new Fairphone 4. This will help to prevent the production of phones from scratch.
You can pick up a Fairphone 4 unlocked so it can be used on any network for about £500 quid. This does include a five year warranty and software updates to match, probably beyond.
Which Phone is Best for You?
We’re all about eco friendly mobile phones and know you’re passionate about them too. Because of this we have a lot of resources for you to decide which phone can be the best for your needs and the environment.
The best phone for you will typically be one that fits into your budget to buy outright, or if you can get it on a green mobile phone contract, you pay it off over time knowing everything is environmentally friendly.
Should money not be a big deal, just get the phone with the most environmentally friendly and ethical build possible. Generally that’s the Fairphone, though iPhones can typically leave a much bigger dent in your pocket and not be quite so friendly.
If looking great and having the absolute best and test technology is your jam, the iPhone range is perfect for. Always hot property, Apple have really been trying to clean up their act in recent years, so now you can buy one and not feel so guilty.