Earth Day 2011: Are we Resisting Green Technology?

by Matt Klassen on April 22, 2011

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I wrote a fairly damning critique of the green movement in the tech and telecom industries, noting that with a few minor exceptions, the mobile industry has steered clear of the whole eco-conscious, lets-be-concerned-for-Mother-Earth hippy mindset, preferring to focus on green of another kind, as in cold hard cash.

Now, 365 days later, it looks like nothing has changed, as like last year Samsung is once again set to release two phones that boast significant eco-cred, smaller American mobile carriers are subtly decrying the excess of their larger competitors, the iPhone is still sucking Mother Earth dry, and the mobile eco-movement is still only wishful thinking.

But in a culture that is increasingly becoming eco-conscious, why is the tech sector so unwilling to change? The reason why most mobile manufacturers are not becoming enthusiastic pioneers of the eco-friendly cause remains the same as well, it’s because green devices really suck…or at least we think they do.

Now don’t get me wrong, I would love nothing more than a tech culture that embraced the environment and made a conscious effort to preserve our natural resources through the use of recycled materials. Heck, while I’m at it, I would also love a tech industry that didn’t exploit third world labourers, exposing them to dangerous and overly taxing work conditions in an effort to keep the prices of the latest smartphones down for the North American consumer. But I digress.

In my mind, the issue behind the unwillingness of the tech sector to embrace green technology is that consumers don’t want devices that embrace green technology. There is still a misconception in our culture that the use of recycled or alternative materials somehow translates into an inferior product, and when consumers are asked to pay several hundred dollars and commit to multi-year contracts, they want the most bang for their buck, and for some reason, that still means using “new” resources.

To be fair, it’s clearly a challenge to develop green mobile tech that consumers will actually want to buy. To celebrate Earth Day 2011, Samsung is once again releasing eco-friendly phones, with the Samsung Restore coming to Virgin while Sprint will carry the Samsung Replenish. But in a case of déjà vu these phones only serve to illustrate my point, as I would guess that none of you could name me any of the eco-friendly phones Samsung released last year. Remember the Samsung Reclaim? Of course you don’t, none of us do.

Therefore, can we really call a phone eco-friendly when despite the fact that its made from 60 percent post consumer materials it still ends up in a landfill shortly after its been purchased?

The reality is that even though our phones are the farthest thing from eco-friendly that one could imagine, it’s the consumers who are largely to blame. It’s consumers who always want the shiniest new phone despite the fact the ‘old’ one is doing just fine, it’s consumers who recycle their devices a woefully inadequate 10 percent of the time, and it’s consumers who shy away from green tech due to perceived issues with overall quality.

So before we can expect the mobile sector to embrace Mother Earth, it is us, the tech consuming public, that needs to embrace Her first. We need to remove the stigma that the word ‘recycled’ has in the tech world, we need to recognize the impact our smartphone purchases make on the world around us, and we need to take responsibility for how we dispose of our technology. Once we fully recognize the need for a more eco-conscious lifestyle and demand our phones and tablets embrace green technology, mobile companies will be quick to acquiesce.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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Allison at CLEAR April 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Hey Matt,

This isn’t quite the same as the eco-friendly phone discussion above, but I wanted to let you know about Clearwire’s efforts to reduce our energy consumption by switching to more environmentally friendly cabinets to house our 4G base stations. We actually just shared some details about these on our blog if you want to take a look: http://www.clear.com/blog/earth-day-is-every-day-at-clearwire/

Thanks!

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