Have you ever noticed the footprints you leave behind as you walk on any soft surface? Whether it's a trail of marks in the sand or your first step into fresh snow, your footsteps can leave a lasting impression. Similarly, the actions we take in our lives can leave a metaphorical impact on the environment, known as our carbon footprint.
A carbon footprint refers to the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted by an entity, whether it's a person, company, product, or event, and is typically expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e). Every electronic device you own, including your smartphone, contributes to your carbon footprint.
Research by academics has shown that the carbon emissions linked to smartphone use have grown exponentially in recent years. In fact, they now surpass the emissions generated by PCs and laptops. In 2020, there were 7.7 billion mobile phones in use, with a total carbon footprint of roughly 580 million tonnes of CO2e, equivalent to about 1% of all global emissions. This figure is only expected to rise as more people get smartphones.
The carbon footprint of a smartphone is calculated by taking into account the manufacturing process, networks and data centres, and electricity consumption. Depending on how much you use your smartphone, your mobile phone's carbon footprint could range from 63kg CO2e per year for an hour of use per day, to 86kg CO2e per year for ten hours of use per day.
While streaming videos and playing games on your smartphone certainly contributes to its carbon footprint, the majority of emissions generated by mobile phones are actually produced during the manufacturing process. The production of smartphones requires precious metals and earths, such as gold, tungsten, and cobalt, which are specially mined. Mining, as we know, is a carbon-intensive process.
For example, the production of a single iPhone X creates 79kg of CO2 in its lifetime, roughly equivalent to burning 9 gallons of gasoline. And 80% of those emissions occur before the phone even leaves the factory. Apple has published analyses of the carbon emissions of all models of iPhone across their lifetime, and in each case, the majority of emissions occur during production.
Given the environmental impact of smartphones, it's important to consider ways to reduce their carbon footprint. This can include using energy-efficient devices, turning off your phone when not in use, and recycling old devices. By reducing our carbon footprint, we can help mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure a more sustainable future.