Eco ratings and carbon footprints are things that really matter to people these days. When it comes to global emissions, everything has an impact, and that includes your mobile phone. Without getting into a discussion about climate change and the so-called ‘climate change deniers’, most of us have finally accepted that it’s our responsibility to look past the end of our noses and actually do something to try and protect our planet.
But what are the carbon credentials of a mobile phone? Are we harming the planet every time we make or take a call? And just how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when a smartphone is made? We sent our roving reporters off to find out just how much damage is or isn’t being done…
How is the carbon footprint of smartphones measured?
The bulk of the carbon footprint associated with smartphones is actually buried in the manufacturing chain. In fact, more CO2 emissions are generated by the manufacture of smartphones than most consumers create after buying them.
To identify the carbon footprint of their products, many of the biggest smartphone manufacturers have been content with the traditional approach of measuring the greenhouse gas emissions of their production facilities. However, that only measures the gases produced by the manufacturing of the device and does not account for the suppliers, logistics and the operation of the stores where the phones are sold.
Greenpeace International has introduced its own objective grading system, called the Guide to Greener Electronics, which measures the commitment of mobile phone makers to producing greener products. That reflects the steps each firm has taken to:
- Reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases;
- Clean up their products by eliminating hazardous substances;
- Take-back and recycle products responsibly once they become obsolete;
- Stop the use of unsuitable materials in products and packaging.
In terms gauging the attitude of some of the world’s leading consumer electronics companies when addressing their environmental impact, this is as complete a picture as you will find.
How much CO2 is involved in the manufacture of smartphones?
Manufacturing the average smartphone is estimated to create around 16kg of CO2 equivalent emissions. If you then add the amount of power the phone consumes over two years of average use then that figure rises to 22kg, but there’s also much more to consider.
All smartphones contain hazardous materials like bromine, chlorine, lead and mercury, while more than 1,000 components are made of metals like gold, tin, lithium and tantalum, which, although not poisonous, cause huge damage through land degradation and mining. There are also other ethical considerations to take into account, such as whether the minerals required to build a smartphone have been sourced from countries where workers are not paid properly, treated fairly or where there are human rights abuses or conflicts.
How much CO2 is involved in smartphone use?
In terms of energy consumption, mobile phones are voracious in their appetite. The average smartphone uses more electricity than a refrigerator, but the actual power required to charge it is small. It’s the infrastructure required to support the usage that accounts for by far the largest share of the power. It’s the servers running 24/7, the air-conditioning required to cool them and the power that keeps our broadband network running nonstop. That, probably needless to say, is a pretty hefty carbon footprint.
However, we also need to take typical usage into account. A one-minute mobile-to-mobile chat produces 57g of CO2, which is about the same as an apple or a large gulp of beer. That probably sounds quite sustainable, but bear in mind that’s just one call. Over the course of a year, someone who makes or receives a call for just two minutes a day will generate 47kg of CO2 emissions. If you talk on the phone for an hour a day then that rockets up to 1250kg. That’s the equivalent of flying from London to New York.
The number of smartphones users in the world is currently 2.54 billion. On that basis, mobile calls alone could account for around 1.25 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, which is just over one-quarter of a percent of the current global emissions.
How to reduce your smartphone carbon footprint?
If you want to reduce the footprint of your smartphone then there are a number of things you can do. That includes:
- Text rather than call
Texting is a much lower-carbon option than calling. If you do need to make a call, using a landline is more carbon-efficient because it takes about one-third less power to transmit the call. Unfortunately, landlines are simply not convenient in many cases.
- Buy refurbished phones
Rather than buying a brand new phone, buying a phone that has been refurbished after being returned by the previous customer is a simple but effective way to reduce your carbon footprint and cut down on e-waste. Refurbished phones are often sold as new and at Lovefone they come with a two-year warranty for the device and one-year for the battery.
- Increase your contract length
A UK smartphone’s typical lifetime is just 18 months. By extending your contract you would get more use from your current phone and reduce the carbon emissions associated with producing a new one. The industry also has to do more to promote this option by offering incentives for customers who take on longer contracts.
- Choose modular phones
There are smartphones out there that are built from sustainable materials and are modular in their construction. That means, rather than having to buy a new phone every time something goes wrong, the phone can be easily disassembled so the faulty part can be replaced.
Ready to go green?
At Lovefone, we offer certified refurbished mobile phones that undergo a 30-point final inspection and are backed by a two-year warranty. Take a look at our range and buy online.
March 28, 2018
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