Smartphones use relatively little electricity in operation, but producing them is highly energy intensive
Smartphone production is emissions intensive
Data centres and smartphones will be the among the most environmentally damaging technologies by 2040, according to new research.
According to research conducted by two professors at McMaster University, Canada, the impact of ICT on greenhouse gas emissions is greater than previously thought.
According to lead author of the report Lotfi Belkhir, an associate professor at W. Booth School of Engineering at the university, projections suggest that by 2020 smartphones will be the most damaging consumer devices for the environment, exceeding emissions from the use of laptops and PCs.
Smartphones consume relatively little energy when operating, but 85 per cent of their emissions impact come from their production.
Further, smartphones have a short battery life which encourages the production of newer and more sophistacated models. In addition, a smartphones's chip and motherboard include a number of precious metals, the extraction and processing of which requires the most energy and investment of all the parts of a smartphone.
There are external impacts too. Every text or call sent or website browsed also uses energy in the form of the data centres that are required to process the communications.
"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," said Belkhir.
Led by internet giants Google and Facebook, many data centres are moving towards renewable sources of energy. Smartphone production needs to follow suit in cleaning up its act, the report suggests.
"The good news is Google and Facebook data centres are going to run on renewable energy," Belkhir said.
"But there needs to be a policy in place so that all data centres follow suit. Also, it's not sustainable to have a two-year subsidised plan for smartphones."
Overll ICT represents one of the fastest growing sources of emissions.
"Today it sits at about 1.5 per cent. If trends continue, ICT will account for as much as 14 per cent of the total global footprint by 2040, or about half of the entire transportation sector worldwide," said Belkhir.