Have you ever wondered if your smartphone which you check every 5 minutes to send or receive a message, check emails, read the news or just mindlessly scroll on social media could be destroying Mother Earth? Smartphones today are extremely prominent and nearly indispensable to almost everyone. Around 67% of the global population owns smartphones. However, do our smartphones have a role to play in climate change? The answer is surprisingly — a big yes. Around 1.55 billion phones are sold each year globally and a single smartphone on average emits 65 kg of carbon. According to an estimate by Deloitte Global, smartphones were expected to generate CO2 equivalent to approximately 146 million tons in 2022.
Environmental degradation takes off right from the beginning itself. In fact, it is said that around 80% of carbon emissions associated with smartphones takes place during the manufacturing, production, and shipping processes. The process used to manufacture a smartphone is very carbon-intensive. The components of smartphones are prepared by extracting metals such as silver, gold, palladium, platinum, lithium or yttrium. They are mined using machinery fuelled by oil or petroleum fuel. This results in huge carbon emissions. The production of integrated circuits installed in smartphones is also very carbon-intensive. As we all know, China happens to be the biggest manufacturer of electronic devices and it majorly uses coal to source its electricity, production of electronics like smartphones tends to have a lot of carbon footprint.
Smartphone consumer behaviour has undergone a rapid change in the past few years. Gone are the days when people found long-term usability with their smartphones and used them for years. Smartphones today are reflective of an individual’s lifestyle and their use reflects the dynamism of the rapidly changing world. And thus everybody wishes to have the latest, most utility-rich and the most attractive devices, leading to the rapid turnover of smartphones of late. But such luxury comes at the cost of the environment. Besides, the decreasing lifespan of smartphones is a contributory factor. Used-up smartphones are dumped, leading to a massive generation of e-waste. Local communities around the landfill are severely affected. Toxic chemicals and hazardous metals are extremely dangerous for people working with or around e-waste.
Encourage longer usage of smartphones
Using a phone for a longer span of time will automatically decrease market demand, this in turn will decrease manufacturing. Companies are dedicating themselves to making more durable phones. We all as educated beings should act responsibly. If we use our smartphones for a longer span (something we all can easily do), we can significantly contribute towards the preservation of the environment.
Promote usage of refurbished phones
Buying a refurbished phone is not only cheap but can effectively reduce carbon footprint too. Companies these days recondition a used phone in a manner that it is difficult to distinguish between a refurbished phone from a “new one”. They come with a warranty and technical support as well. Thus, you are not sacrificing quality and performance if you are opting for a refurbished device.
Your smartphone can be recycled to a good 80% of its materials. If raw materials are recycled, high carbon emissions at the source can be significantly reduced. For example, rare-earth metals can be recycled with the help of technology. Circuit boards, batteries and enclosures, tin, cobalt and aluminium can be obtained.
Smartphone companies should encourage their entire supply chain to go green and must incentivise them for doing so. They should plan on giving business to those suppliers who are taking efforts to reduce emissions and have environmental and social protection on their agenda. Companies like Apple and Samsung have already made the move. Apple has committed to making its supply chain net zero by 2030. And Samsung has committed to achieving net zero across its enterprise by 2050. According to a statement by Mark Newton, who is the head of sustainability for Samsung Americas, Samsung will be 100% renewable by 2027 everywhere in the world except for Korea.
It’s time that regulators step into this chain of smartphone lifecycle management and make some regulations to bring e-waste under control. Countries like France have already come forward with a set of laws that compel device makers, including manufacturers of smartphones, to explain repair features and score the repairability of a device on a scale of one to ten to their customers. The idea is to encourage consumers to opt for repairing a device rather than buying a new one as long as it is repairable.
Many companies have started to realise their responsibility and they are bringing innovations to the device to increase phone longevity. For instance, the introduction of a waterproof smartphone is a great initiative as many complain about smartphone damage owing to the seeping of water into their devices. Vendors have also extended the software support period. Sustainability awareness in this sector is somewhere missing especially at the consumers’ end but it is time now to switch to an ethical smartphone lifecycle management approach. Because our behaviour as consumers will determine smartphone-manufacturing companies' behaviour.
You can learn more about carbon emission and mitigation by opting for the ESG Expert Certification course from the Directors’ Institute - World Council of Directors.