We’re Calling It - Here’s the Environmental Impact of Your Smartphone

Mar 10th 2023


A tap here and a swipe there. Done. Let’s check off your grocery list, utility bills, social calendar, and the donations you promised your favorite charity. That’s the ease and convenience of using a smartphone today. 

However, how often do we think about the larger than life impact of using these ultra-smart devices on the environment? With the number of phones outnumbering human beings on earth, are you ever curious to know how ‘green’ your device really is? 


The Modern Smartphone & Our Fragile Environment

The first smartphone was developed in 1992. As tech circles rejoiced over this marvelous feet, environmentalists began a countdown. Between 1990 to 2021, greenhouse gas emissions increased by 50%, with carbon dioxide contributing 80% to the total. Coincidence, you say? Read on...

Research suggests that a new smartphone emits 85kgs of carbon in its first year. Various studies indicate that within this pie, 95% comes from the manufacturing process alone. Therefore, producing a smartphone is an emission intensive process; and hence, the root cause of the environmental impact.

Tonnes of carbon is released into the atmosphere during the molding, filtering and mining of the various metals used during manufacturing. Let’s break this down and identify the most prominent factors.


1.    Does it Come from New or Refurbished Material 
The impact of using recycled or refurbished materials is considerably less because these metals have already been mined. Recycled tin, aluminum and cobalt are finding new life in speakers, batteries and cases. 
Using these recycled materials helps increase sustainability and reduce our environmental impact, which is the best way to continue benefiting from technology well into the future. 
2.    Does the Manufacturing Plant Use Renewable Sources of Power? 
      How are manufacturing plants powered? Using renewable sources of energy like solar and wind power reduces emissions that would otherwise be let out into the environment in the form of harmful gasses and sewage waste.
      A prime example is Apple. As of 2018, all Apple facilities around the globe are being powered by solar energy. This includes data centers, office buildings and retail stores. To align its goal to combat climate change with suppliers, the brand actively helps partners switch to renewable sources of power with 23 suppliers already on board. 
      3.    Is Energy Efficiency a Priority?
        Energy and process efficiency is another factor that determines the environmental impact of manufacturing smartphones.
        Maintaining ideal levels of temperature and humidity is essential for semiconductor manufacturing. About 30% of all power needed is devoted to maintaining these constants at all times. Improving older factories and warehouses can significantly reduce the amount of resources needed to do so. 


        So, What Are You Going To Do About The Environmental Impact Of Your Smartphone? 

        By 2040, the Information and Communication Industry could potentially be responsible for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. In 2007, the same stat was a mere 1%. 

        Many smartphones are only used for up to two years before they are discarded.  That’s an awfully short lifespan to justify the emission of gasses that will hang around the atmosphere for at least 300 years. 

        Thankfully, trends have started to change. According to Mobile Muster, 30% of Australians are now using their favorite iPhones or Samsung phones for more than 2 years. And more than 20% have invested in refurbished upgrades.

        How can we further improve this trend, you ask? Well, using smartphones is a necessity; so is upgrading them. However, advocating for lengthening their lifespan and refurbishing them where possible can help reduce their carbon footprint.

        As you scroll to this last paragraph on your smartphone (thumbs up if it’s refurbished!), let’s make a pact to atone for this device’s environmental impact by taking simple steps like: