A study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production has revealed a very disturbing picture of our planet. Researchers from McMaster University looked at the carbon impact due to the information and communication industry (ICT) from 2010 till 2020. ICT includes mobile phones, servers, laptops, PCs and much more.
The study found that despite technology maturing, the carbon footprint has tripled since 2007. It is expected that if nothing is done we might exceed the 14% carbon footprint mark by 2040!
While smartphones generally have a lifecycle of 2 years, the impact of upgrading to a new phone is enormous. The metals that need to be mined constitute 85%-95% of the device’s CO2 emission even 2 years down the road. So charging the phone is not as damaging as upgrading to a new phone is, at least for a decade or so.
While the industry has now started to advertise how they are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, the measures are not enough. A study found that iPhone 6s produced 57% more CO2 than iPhone 4s. However, the new iPhone 7 produces 10% less CO2 than iPhone 6s. But the industry has moved to bigger phones, like the iPhone 7 Plus which produce 10% more CO2 than the iPhone 6s. So, while processes have been made better, the increase in size has had an adverse effect.
Servers and data centers are the most notorious industries as they constitute 45% of carbon footprint caused by ICT. Phones play a very important role here as well. As more and more apps push for some form of online connection, data servers need to be there to answer the request. The problem has resulted in Microsoft dumping its data servers underwater for better cooling and Apple transitioning to 100% renewable energy. Many including Google and Facebook have pledged to move to 100% renewable energy sources.
Internet of things (IOT) is a relatively new industry that is going to wreak havoc if we are not prepared for it. As IOT moves everything to the cloud, it is going to demand a more aggressive online connection, which would mean more data servers operating for longer periods.
While the industry figures out ways to reduce its carbon footprint, we can be responsible consumers and think about our planet when buying products. For example, by not upgrading our phone for one additional year, we can positively impact the environment. It might look insignificant, but many drops make a river.