While smartphones are always being recognised for their breakthroughs in power, affordability or hardware, it’s not often that you hear about the phones that are the most sustainable of them all. Luckily, there are manufacturers out there that are yet to earn their seats at the big table among the giants but continue to make a name for themselves and break the status quo by sticking to their beliefs that phones can be made with longevity in mind and be less detrimental to the environment.
So, updated for 2023, here’s our own selection of the most sustainable phones. If you’re looking to buy an environmentally friendly smartphone in 2023, read on and find out which is the best fit for you.
Updated for 2023, this list of sustainable phones includes:
<br /> **Quick summary** - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Longevity: 5-year warranty and software support until 2026</span> - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Modular and repairable publicly available spare parts</span> - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Built with recycled and fairtrade materials, responsible packaging</span> - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Lifetime carbon footprint at 43 kg CO2-e</span> - released in 2021
Fairphone is the undisputed king of ethical phone manufacturing. This Dutch phone maker is the only brand at the moment that puts producing long-lasting, repairable, fairtrade-sourced and modular devices at the forefront of their operations. As much as Apple will claim that they’re an ethical company, Fairphone walks the walk as well as talks the talk, leaving their competitors in the dust.
Fairphone have yet again pushed the limits and created the Fairphone 4 which now has 5G support, runs on Android 11, houses dual rear cameras, 3905 mAh battery, comes with 6 or 8GB of RAM and looks modern. Who said that green phones can’t have the latest features? All this while having a 10/10 repairability score and 5 year warranty because they know the longer the phone is kept, the more sustainable it becomes. Moreover, Fairphone 4 has guaranteed Android software updates all the way through 2025, with Fairphone hoping to extend it even further and roll out Android 15. Hearing this from Fairphone, we know it’s possible and doable because that’s what happened with Fairphone 2 which is has been supported for 7 years (final software update in March 2023).
Fairphone 4 uses 100% post consumer recycled plastics, fairtrade gold, tungsten as well as recycled tin and other rare earth metals. Furthermore, you can make your Fairphone 4 e-waste neutral by recycling your old phone. As it has become increasingly apparent, the way the smartphone industry currently impacts the environment is unsustainable, and so there’s been an outcry among environmentalists for a phone which adheres to the circular economy. Fairphone once again succeeded at this with the Fairphone 4 which should be the top choice for anyone prioritising sustainability and with a genuine need for a new phone.
Image courtesy of Fairphone website
<br /> **Quick summary:** - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Longevity: 4-year care warranty and software updates until late 2023</span> - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Repairable with medium modularity</span> - <span style="color: #E9AA09;">Built with 25% recycled materials, responsible packaging</span> - <span style="color: #FC3528;">Lifetime carbon footprint is not reported</span> - Released in late 2020
While Fairphone is our top pick for the most sustainable phone, we think that Teracube is a worthy runner-up. In comparison to the Fairphone 4, Teracube 2e has been around since late 2020, but it runs stock Android with Teracube guaranteeing at least 3 years of software updates, so it is safe to say it will last a good few years if you bought it at release. Additionally, Teracube 2e comes with 4 years of premium care warranty that covers parts, performance, labour, express replacement and two-way shipping (UK and other select markets).
In terms of the specs, the Teracube 2e has a dual rear camera, an 8MP front facing lens, a replaceable 4,000 mAh battery, a 6.1” HD+ display, eco-friendly packaging (made with soy ink and recycled paper) as well as a biodegradable case. These specs aren’t pretty on paper and for a flagship user looking for power or outstanding camera it will be a difficult switch, but it all seems to be worth it for the fact that you can pop the plastic back, remove the battery and fit a new one. Isn’t this amazing in 2023? The only downside is that if you’re considering the Teracube 2e in 2023, there’s a short period of OS support remaining. If Teracube release their final software batch for the Teracube 2e later this year, you will be able to use the phone safely throughout 2024. This is something to keep in mind. Alternatively, keep an eye on updates from Teracube and their plans for future releases. At the time of updating this article, Teracube 2e was in stock in the UK with a 2-day shipping from a UK warehouse.
Image courtesy of Teracube website
<br /> **Quick summary:** - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Longevity: iOS updates for 5+ years, likely all the way through to iOS 21</span> - <span style="color: #FC3528;">Challenging to repair, non-modular</span> - <span style="color: #E9AA09;">Built with recycled rare earth elements in Taptic Engine and audio magnets, responsible packaging</span> - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Lifetime carbon footprint at 46 kg of CO2-e</span> - Released in 2022
You might be asking why is the 3rd generation iPhone SE on our list of sustainable phones and not the latest iPhone 14? Newer doesn’t always mean better and the answer lies in the lifetime carbon footprint. That of an entry model iPhone 14 is 32% higher than the iPhone SE’s carbon impact. This means that manufacturing an iPhone SE 2022 model generated less carbon, shipping and the use of it are more efficient. For the past few smartphone generations, Apple have been ramping up the carbon impact of their flagship series, that’s why if you’re looking for a sustainable iPhone, the most recent iPhone SE is your best bet.
Equipped with A15 Bionic chipset (the same processor that powers the iPhone 13 series), the iPhone SE 2022 is just as fast as the more premium iPhones of 2022. Its pocket-friendly size, 4.7-inch display and 5G connectivity is a great combination where sustainability and modern features meet in the middle. If you don’t mind the pre-iPhone X design, then the lack of edge-to-edge display won’t bother you. The fact that Apple reused the chassis of an iPhone 8, which was released about 5 years ago, to keep costs down, earns extra green credentials for the iPhone SE 2022.
<br /> **Quick summary:** - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Longevity: 3 years of Android updates until July 2025, security updates until July 2027</span> - <span style="color: #E9AA09;">Non modular, but with fairly straightforward repairs (rated 7/10 in PBKreviews repairability test)</span> - <span style="color: #E9AA09;">100% recycled aluminium housing and 20% of the Pixel 6a is made from recycled materials; 95% plastic-free packaging</span> - <span style="color: #3DAF2C;">Lifetime carbon footprint at 65 kg of CO2-e</span> - Released in 2022
From our overview of sustainability of Google Pixel phones, we’ve noticed that the budget Pixel A series are less carbon intensive compared to flagship Pixels. This is exactly the reason Pixel 6a made our list of sustainable phones and not the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro duo. Although the Pixel 5a released in 2021 emits 5kg less CO2 than the Pixel 6a, software support and longevity of the 6a model swayed the sustainability scales to its side.
Despite costing less for the planet and for your wallet, the budget Pixel 6a has the same features as its flagship siblings Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. It’s powered by the same Google Tensor octa-core chipset which contributes a lot to Pixel 6a’s efficiency when in use. The downside is a less professional rear camera, smaller edge-to-edge display and less RAM (6GB).
If you've just learned about how bad phones are for the environment and it’s making you think that you need to get rid of your ‘dirty’ phone and order a Fairphone, don’t. The phone you’ve got is already a more sustainable option than buying a new phone, so we couldn’t not mention the phone you currently own on our sustainable phones list. You’ll probably agree that it’s not ethical to part with a perfectly working phone and get a greener option just for the sake of it. Extend your current phone’s lifespan for as long as you can before it dies. Just by continuing to use your phone for 4 years instead of 18 months, you can decrease its environmental impact by up to 40%.
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This list wouldn’t be complete without us mentioning refurbished phones. Any smartphone can be refurbished to quality standards if it isn’t beyond repair. You can find well-known brands among certified refurbished phones like OnePlus, Huawei, Apple and Samsung if Fairphone or Teracube don’t take your fancy.
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Unfortunately, Samsung are still not releasing their product specific environmental product reports, so no Galaxy phones made this list. We'd like to see more ethically sourced phones on the market without the performance being compromised, and tech giants like Apple and Samsung could follow in Fairphone or Teracube’s footsteps to launch a sustainable product line. Who knows, a sustainable phone could become mainstream one day.
Cover image by Edward Howell on Unsplash
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