Carbon Footprint of Electronics

Electronics have a far greater carbon footprint than their size or weight would suggest. This is a function of the nature and variety of the precious metals used in their manufacture together with the massive carbon footprint of the computer chip (semi-conductor) manufacturing process.

Carbon footprint is usually measured in units of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (CO₂e), expressed as a weight. The UK government has calculated for 2021 that over a range of electronic (IT) devices the carbon intensity per kg of product is 24.865kg CO2e. So the production of every 1kg of electronics results in the emission of almost 25 kg of carbon into the atmosphere!

Life Cycle Assessments

Many manufacturers produce a Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) for their products. For example, a Dell laptop weighing just 2kg has a CO₂e footprint of 110kg from its manufacturing processes alone. This is a 50 fold factor increase on its raw weight!

A recent study looked at the LCAs of 64 models of medium-sized laptop from Apple, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft. It found that an average laptop of this size represents about 263 kg of embodied CO2e – equivalent of a flight from London to Berlin and around 81% of the total CO2e each device produces over its entire life.

Laptops are at the extreme end of CO2e impact by weight due to their high semi-conductor content. However other devices still have a large carbon footprint. A detailed Swedish MSc Thesis on the LCA of an Axis camera found that even before it was first plugged in the footprint equated to 68.1 kg CO2e.


References – Dell LCAHidden Impact DevicesCustom LCA for Network Cameras

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