Motorola is billing its new W233 Renew, a cell phone whose case is made from recycled water bottles, as the world's first "green" phone. The phone (click on image at right for a closer look), announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show and available from T-Mobile in February for an undisclosed price, claims an eco-friendly talk time of up to 9 hours and a “zero-carbon footprint.”
To reach that claim involved what is known as a carbon credit. Such credits, as our colleagues at the Consumer Reports Home and Garden blog have covered, aim to allow companies or individuals to offset the carbon emissions generated by their product or their lifestyle by funding projects that reduce carbon emissions, a key contributor to environmental impact of products.
In this case, then, Motorola says it will pay Carbonfund.org, which sells carbon credits, an undisclosed sum for every Renew to offset the carbon dioxide used to manufacture, distribute, and operate the phone. Carbonfund.org, in turn, says it will use the money to fund projects that reduce carbon emissions, such as wind farms and methane-trapping programs.
Our colleagues at GreenerChoices.org, the environmental website for Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, see credits as a small but potentially helpful way to cut carbon emissions. However, they also urge that before buying any product on the basis of a carbon-offset program, be sure to read the fine print, since there are no federal guidelines (Adobe Acrobat required) for specific carbon offsets.
Other manufacturers have also unveiled similar green phones, but only as prototypes or concepts. There's the Remade, a cell phone Nokia has been displaying at trade shows for more than a year. Remade's case (Click on image at left for a closer left) is also made from water bottles, as well as recycled aluminum cans and old tires (the keypad). The Remade makes claims to be green on the inside as well, with supposedly environmentally friendly printed electronics and an energy-saving display. And late last year, Sony Ericsson unveiled its GreenHeart, a phone with a biodegradable skin and an energy-smart charger that shuts off after it charges the phone.
Environmental claims aside, little appears to be special about the candy-bar-shaped Renew. Measuring 54 x 110.97 x 14.7 mm (approx. 2.1 x 4.4 x 0.6 inches), the phone does not support European GSM frequency bands, making it one of the few T-Mobile phones you can't use outside the United States.
A small carbon footprint, the use of recycled materials, and high energy efficiency, while worthy attributes, aren't the only green considerations about a cell phone or any other item. Consumer groups and regulators are wrestling with how complex it is to attempt to capture the full environmental impact of products.