I've made a lot of seemingly important purchases later in life - the things many people think you can't live without. My car comes to mind (a relatively fuel-efficient, safe and second-hand car purchased last December). I'd like to think I made the purchases with a clear mind about their frugal use and environmental impacts (the car is insured for "pleasure" use and I don't use it for daily commuting). My first cell phone hopefully falls into a similar category.
It's true, I have never owned a cell phone, a fact that shocks people when they hear I'm an environmental communicator. My friends have implored me for years to "get with the 1990's," annoyed by my "offlineness," but truth be told, the reason I'm finally getting one is because A) I've launched a new press release service that requires more constant contact with clients and B) I've found a phone that I'm comfortable with from both safety (SAR radiation level) and environmental impact (recycled and non-toxic materials) points of view.
The phone is the Samsung Blue Earth, and it has one of the lowest SAR radiation ratings on the market (.196 vs. 1.17 for the iPhone 4). It's even got a solar panel on the back that can top up the phone's charge via outdoor or indoor lighting. It also has decent features, including a touch-screen, integration with Gmail (so my 6000 media contact database will be close at hand), and it does limited video recording and has a specialized document viewer. I haven't tried out the eco-mode settings yet, but apparently it'll conserve battery power, remind me to take out the recycling as well as count my carbon emissions for trips spent walking vs. taking the car.
I'm not pretending that this phone doesn't have an environmental impact, but after reading about the effects North American demand for electronics is having in China, particularly with respect to rare earth mines, I'm happy to report that this phone has taken a pass on at least one rare earth (Beryllium). The solar panel is also a positive step, reducing power consumption and increasing battery life.
As a personal artifact that conspicuously appears in our daily life, I like the symbolism of this cell phone's solar panel. I also like the sustainable values and myths integrated into the phone's operation and user interface. If you're going to have something in your personal effects that represents a positive sustainable future, why not start with your cell phone?
The Blue Earth is a a small success in more sustainable cell phone design - hopefully we'll see more from Samsung and other cell phone makers (ahem, Apple) in the future.