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Are Smart Phones Green?
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Are Smart Phones Green?
Dear EcoGirl: Are smart phones and MP3 players good or bad for the earth? Signed, On the Go
Dear On the Go: Thanks for your question -- and the chance to talk about one of the fascinating forces shaping our culture today. I do have to confess my personal bias here: I recently bought an iPod Touch (aka iTouch) and love what it can do. (The iTouch has the iPhone's interface, apps, web access, and music capacity, without its phone contract.)
But do these tools meet my eco-values? I'll answer that by walking through my assessment process as an example.
The Material World
With all the glitz, excitement, and peer pressure, it's easy to forget that mobile devices are consumer products with eco-costs throughout their lifecycle, from resource extraction, manufacturing, energy use, and waste. (For an engaging video about consumerism's connection to eco-harm, see www.storyofstuff.com.)
Therefore, there's really no 100% green product; the best we can do is choose greener approaches. This first means buying only what we need, making full use of it, and discarding it responsibly, including never putting electronics in the trash. (For more on this topic, see "Greening Your Techno-Tools" at www.patriciadines.info/EcoGirl2j.html.)
In my case, I knew that the iTouch would be useful for me and that, while not eco-perfect, it does well on criteria such as avoiding toxics. I also only got a few accessories (a protective case and screen film). Note that there are cool eco-cases, solar chargers, and more. (See www.iphoneness.com/iphone-accessories/best-green-iphone-accessories.)
And then there are the apps (software applications) -- literally hundreds of thousands of them! Whatever your hobby, interest, question, even unasked question -- yup, there's an app for it -- all easily downloaded and ready to go.
One hidden eco-benefit of apps is that they often replace physical objects, including books, CDs, calendars, maps, guidebooks, etc. Thus, this tool doesn't just use resources; it can also save them.
Of course, these e-replacements aren't appropriate in all situations; other formats still have value. Plus, this technology does use energy, and there are health concerns about cell phones and wi-fi, so it's prudent to be modest in one's exposure. Still, I see a net eco-benefit here.
But what's really gotten me excited are the eco-apps. This includes tools that help us buy eco-products, manage home energy use, garden organically, find local recycling, access public transit, share rides, plan safe bike routes, take walking tours, learn about nature's creatures, calculate our eco-footprint, green our home and office, and much more.
Certainly, app quality varies, but I've already discovered some (free!) eco-apps that I like, including: GoodGuide (scan a product barcode for a quick eco-assessment), FishPhone (scroll by fish name to buy non-threatened species), California Farmers' Market Finder (search by town or county), Golden Gate Park Field Guide (explore its museums, gardens, wildlife, and more), Skeptical Science (handy fact-based responses to arguments made by climate change "skeptics"), and Environment Cartoons (for a little truth-telling humor). If you have a favorite eco-app, please let me know!
I do also want to note some less-beneficial tendencies of these devices.
1) Truncated information. The small screens and keyboards can reinforce our culture's Twitter-length attention span that skims people and information based on image, and rewards superficial cleverness and convenient cynicism.
2) Passive consumerism. The urge for only immediate pleasure without addressing challenging realities is part of what allows so much harm to continue.
3) Earbud disconnection. The joy of personalized music can cut us off from interacting with people in our travels.
To counteract these risks, we can:
1) Read quality information that encourages the competent thinking needed to solve today's community crises.
2) Join with allies who are also taking constructive action for a better world.
3) Step outside of techno-world regularly, to connect with nature's vitality, community's serendipity, and each person's uniqueness. This self-nurturing also reminds us that the earth isn't just another consumer option but the foundation supporting all other activities.
With this wise balancing, I think mobile tech can fit well into a green life.
Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter. Email your questions about going green to <EcoGirl [at] AskEcoGirl.info> for possible inclusion in future columns. View past columns at <www.AskEcoGirl.info>.
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© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2011. All rights reserved.
For more information
Apple's website touts some good eco-features for the iTouch, including that it's PVC-free with a mercury-free LCD display, arsenic-free display glass, and a recyclable stainless steel enclosure. On the other hand, I consider it pretty non-eco that I can't upgrade the memory (so I chose to buy more than I need now) and, if my battery needs to be replaced, I can't do it myself. Greenpeace scored Apple well in some eco-criteria, such as its avoidance of toxic chemicals, including that it's largely free of PVC vinyl plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), though it wishes it were stronger in other eco-aspects.
See Greenpeace's eco-assessments of Apple and other companies at www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/toxics/electronics/Guide-to-Greener-Electronics.
SKEPTICAL SCIENCE WEBSITE
Skeptical Science's handy fact-based responses to arguments
made by climate change "skeptics" are not only in their app; they can
also be found on their website
OTHER APPS THAT I FOUND INTERESTING
You can find these apps by entering their name at Apple's App store or doing an Internet search.
Plastic Analyzer. A quick way to learn about the plastic code numbers on containers.
Ivera. A friend happily uses this to save energy by automating their house -- controlling lights, thermostats, etc. www.thinkiwi.com. It requires Ivera devices. For more info, see www.micasaverde.com.
SystemInfo. I love this app to easily and graphically see my battery charge and storage space available with one double-click.
Line 2. I haven't tried this app yet, someone told me about it, but I found it of interest so I'm passing it along. What it does is give wi-fi phone capacity to the iTouch for $10 a month. It still requires that you find an available wi-fi network, so it's not the same as a cell phone connection, and I have no idea how good the sound quality is. Still, it might be something to look into.
THE RISKS OF WIRELESS
"Is Wi-Fi killing trees? Dutch study shows leaves dying after
exposure", By Niall Firth, November 25 2010
Report warns of wireless radiation risks, Feb. 3, 2011
"A panel of international scientists writing in the journal Reviews of Environmental Health is urging world governments to set greatly reduced exposure limits for electromagnetic radiation from power line and telecommunications technologies including cellphones, ElectromagneticHealth.org reported Wednesday."
EMF Safety Network. For more about the concerns, risks, and
actions being taken to better protect us form electromagnetic fields
(EMFs) and radio frequency radiation (RF), see the
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I'm delighted to offer you my Ask EcoGirl booklets, "Healthier Housecleaning" and "Detoxing Your Life." These unique, handy, and cheerful resources bring together key information you need to create a healthier home for your family and the planet. They make a great gift, and quantity discounts and wholesale prices are available. Plus all sales support my eco-healing community work. Tell a friend! Find out more at www.askecogirl.info/booklets.html.
I hope that you find this information useful. I welcome your throughts and feedback!
You can email me at ecogirl [at] askecogirl.info! You can also ask to be on my email article alerts list or connect via Facebook at www.facebook.com/AskEcoGirl.
For more information on this and related eco-topics, see my other Ask EcoGirl columns.
For more about my writing in general, on eco-issues and more, see my What's News page. My latest big article is True Green, published in NorthBay biz magazine. It's mission is to readers avoid green imposters and choose to buy and be authentically green. I had so much fun writing this!
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Page last updated 11/01/2011