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Handset Makers Hype 'Green' but Fall Short

To paraphrase a famous quote by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street, "Green is good." Much like their server and desktop computer brethren, mobile device makers may tout the "greenness" of their devices and environmental aspects like recycling programs.

But the cost of going green may be too much for many of these vendors to pursue in a comprehensive way, according to a report released today by ABI Research.

"Several proof products that epitomize a vendor's best greening efforts are currently being marketed," says ABI Research director Kevin Burden in a release. "But our research found that very few handset manufacturers - except those with the scale to do it economically, such as Samsung and Nokia - are highly motivated to produce lines of green phones. Instead, the effort is toward compliance and the trickling down of proven green elements throughout entire product lines."

ABI Research noted that while most mobile handset vendors have recycling programs, less than five percent of the annual worldwide volume of handsets shipped come back through recycling or ethical disposal programs.

Green initiatives are largely spurred on by regulatory pressures, coupled with corporate and social responsibilities. For example, on the regulatory front, ABI noted that many toxic substances have been legally banned and other substances known to threaten human health and the environment are being phased out voluntarily by many manufacturers.

At least one survey indicates green-oriented companies appeal to consumers. ABI said a 2008 Nokia survey indicated that 76 percent of their respondents are more likely to buy phones from companies they consider environmentally responsible. "As vendors move green features toward a platform approach for broader implementation, that is when negative economic factors flatten and the environment truly wins," said Burden.

For now, ABI concludes that few vendors are working on the kind of scale that makes entire green product lines economically viable in their view.

Time to pull the plug

There are green-friendly steps being taken on a broad scale already. Last month, for example, a group of mobile handset makers launched an energy rating system for chargers. The star rating system was developed and supported by LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung Electronics and Sony Ericsson.

The idea is to rate chargers based on how much energy they use when left in a wall socket after the mobile devices is disconnected. The group claims about two-thirds of the energy used by mobile devices is wasted this way.