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Your cell phone is charged--please unplug

A Nokia-led European Commission task force offers ideas for making mobile phones greener.

A mobile industry task force led by Nokia announced on Thursday that it has agreed to do its part for the environment--by reminding you to conserve electricity.

The members of the task force, a project of the European Commission (EC), agreed to include alerts on the cell phones they make that will remind people to unplug their charger once a phone is fully charged. If 10 percent of the world's cell phone owners did this, the group's final report said, it would reduce energy consumption by an amount equivalent to that used by 60,000 European homes per year.

Nokia announced that it will have the alerts in place on its phones by the middle of 2007.

The initiative is part of a pilot project by the environmental agency of the EC intended to encourage industries to "reduce the environmental impact of their products throughout their lifecycle." Groups from various industries looked at everything from raw materials to manufacturing processes to the effects of product decomposition.

Nokia volunteered to start a group for the mobile phone industry, according to the EC.

"We are quite happy with this first approach, though obviously we would like to go deeper. We will issue a report on what has born fruit from this and we will look at, in a year from now, the results. This is an ongoing process and hopefully other companies will come on board," said Barbara Helfferich, a spokeswoman on the environment for the Commission.

In addition to adding the "unplug" alerts to their phones, the mobile group committed to voluntarily eliminating or reducing the amount of certain flame retardants, heavy metals and phthalates used in cell phones. Other commitments included phone recycling incentives and the posting of "eco-fact" panels listing a product's environmental impact.

Notably absent from the commitments was one relating to an early observation, made on Feb. 15, 2005, in Nokia's own report to the EC on the environmental impact of mobile phones (Click here for PDF). It said that one of the mobile industry's leading environmental impacts is the energy consumed during the component manufacturing process. Cell phone power use was the other leading impact.

Helfferich, however, said that the EC did not intend for the voluntary task force to tackle that issue.

"We have other policies in place that encourage limiting the emissions from manufacturing or reducing the energy consumption that is part of the manufacturing process, other ways of detailing that. In the voluntary agreement we don't cover it. And companies--Nokia, for instance--have voluntarily agreed to design for reducing the energy consumption of the actual phones or charger," said Helfferich.

Companies that participated in the EC mobile task force, whose research spanned two years, include AMD, Epson, France Telecom/Orange, Intel, Motorola, Panasonic, Teliasonera, and Vodafone.

The EC listed passenger cars, meat products and housing as having the largest impacts on the environment overall.