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  • Christian Watts

Smartphones are warming the planet far more than you think

Mobile phones cause a fairly tiny slice of global emissions, but if you are a chatterbox using your mobile for an hour each day, the total adds up to more than 1 tonne CO2e per year – the equivalent of flying from London to New York, one way, in economy class.

I am a iPhone 14 pro max user

So as i'm starting this social enterprise and I use my phone for my personal blog it was easy to justify it to myself that I needed this phone, as I can run everything off it. I needed the size of the screen, I needed the camera and I needed unlimited data. When lots of us look at simplifying our lives, how many of us don't even think about our phones, how we use them and the carbon footprint the produce.

" I think the smart phone is the best consumer product ever. That’s what I feel about it. And it’s become so integrated and integral to our lives, you wouldn’t think about leaving home without it.."

But with that, how is it effecting our planet.

Since the very first iPhone, Apple has been publishing environmental reports detailing the environmental impact of its iPhone products. So thanks to the data from Apple, I have the answer.

So taking the total carbon emissions’ figures across all storage capacities since the iPhone 4S and the lifetime carbon footprint of an iPhone works out to be 77.54 kg of CO2-e on average. As a single figure it appears to be fine. The same amount of CO2 is generated by consuming 32.933 liters of petrol. But if you think about how many of us use iPhones and other smart phones together we are having a huge impact on our environment and it's only going to get worse. In 2007 only 1% of global emissions were used by smart phones, and that is predicted to rise to 14% by 2040!

Where do the emissions come from?

The packaging and distribution of ready devices amounts to only 8% of Apple’s carbon footprint and creates about 3% of the total lifetime emissions of an iPhone. However, Apple disclosed in their Environmental Responsibility Report 2022 (reporting on fiscal year 2021) that 70% of company’s carbon footprint comes from the production, with significant proportion of these emissions generated by the use of aluminium in their products. Building these complex devices and making them smart and powerful requires various resources to be extracted from the Earth. The entire process of mining resources and production of batteries, screens, circuit boards and speakers takes up a lion’s share of carbon emissions generated by manufacturing and is highly detrimental to the environment.

Although Apple reports great efforts of their final assembly suppliers transitioning to renewable energy to power their manufacturing facilities and eliminate waste that goes to landfill, with every high-end iPhone the percentage of emissions generated during production stages reaches even higher numbers.

Among the latest iPhones released by Apple in 2022, the new iPhone 14 Pro Max has the most CO2 emissions generated in production compared to rest of the lineup. Not surprisingly, Apple reports the biggest carbon footprint percentage at the use stage for the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus. As we do use our phones everyday from emails to watching videos!

What Apple say's against our real use.

What Apple factors into their product carbon emissions' figures during use stage is device's use of power over 3-4 years. Basically, how long the iPhone lasts on one charge and how much energy it requires to recharge over time. However, how we use iPhones is not limited to only charging them. We send emails and texts, stream videos, play games and many other things, so energy consumption extends beyond the need for charging an iPhone. Mike Berners-Lee, pretty smart guy if you ask us, theorises the real figure of carbon footprint of a smartphone usage in his latest edition of How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint Of Everything (2020). Mike Berners-Lee's calculations suggest 69kg of CO2 per year using the phone for 3 hours and 25 minutes a day. As you can see the true figure is far higher than what Apple reports which is only a fraction and understandingly is connected to the iPhone's direct use of power to work and does not account for emissions of data centres and networks that are an important part in making iPhones usable.

"Maybe going with friends to the movies and watching a movie there on the big screen is actually more environmentally friendly than each one of them watching it on their smartphones."

So how can we help each other? I can't see me not using my phone, it's been made to important in everyday life, with every photo I take and then save on the cloud, with every video I watch and blog post I write it's leaving a carbon footprint, I can be more sociable and use my phone less but more needs to be done. Becoming a friend of Carboon and join us on this journey. For £2 monthly subscription we will plant enough bamboo, over the length of your're contract that will take out 136kg of carbon out of the atmosphere a year. So together we can make you using your're mobile phone carbon neutral as well as creating amazing spaces with bamboo for people to enjoy.

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