Ditch your smartphone, save the environment

Smartphones and data centres will be the most damaging information and communications technologies to the environment by 2040, according to a new study. 85 per cent of smartphone emissions impact comes from production.

New research from the W Booth School of Engineering and Practice and Technology at McMaster University in the Canadian city of Hamilton reveals that information and communications technologies (ICT) has a greater impact on emissions than once thought – and most emissions come from production and operation.

“We found that the ICT industry as a whole was growing but it was incremental,” said Lofti Belkhir, an associate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation. “Today it sits at about 1.5 per cent. If trends continue, ICT will account for as much as 14 per cent for the total global footprint by 2040, or about half of the entire transportation sector worldwide.”

“For every text message, for every phone call, every video you upload or download, there’s a data centre making this happen. Telecommunications networks and data centres consume a lot of energy to serve you and most data centres continue to be powered by electricity generated by fossil fuels. It’s the energy consumption we don’t see.”

Trends suggest that smartphones will be the most damaging devices to the environment by 2020. While they consume little energy to operate, 85 per cent of their emissions impact comes from production.

A smartphone’s chip and motherboard require the most amount of energy to produce as they are made up of precious metals that are mined at a high cost.

Smartphones also have a short life, which drives further production of new models and an extraordinary amount of waste.

“Anyone can acquire a smartphone, and telecommunications companies make it easy for people to acquire a new one every two years. We found that by 2020 the energy consumption of a smartphone is going to be more than that of PCs and laptops.”

Based on these findings, Belkir is urging communication and data centres to turn to renewable energy now. “The good news is Google and Facebook data centres are going to run on renewable energy. But there needs to be a policy in place so that all data centres follow suit.”

Image credit: Marc-André Julien on Unsplash

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