Smart choices reduce the climate impact of your IT use

The effects of the climate crisis are here. Weather and climate extremes affect every region across the globe, with flooding, drought and damage to nature and people. We must act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all significant sources, including IT products.

Global warming is now 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. To limit warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees, emissions must be cut in half by 2030, compared with 2019. Instead, the levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere continue to rise. Emissions stem from a variety of sources, and IT products are no exception.

Computers, phones and other IT products are a source of greenhouse gases throughout their life cycle — from manufacturing to distribution, use and disposal. For most IT products, a majority of these emissions occur in the manufacturing phase. The manufacturing process is energy-intensive, and a majority of factories are powered by fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases are also emitted during transportation and use of the IT product, but in comparison to the manufacturing phase, the impacts are relatively small. Therefore, energy-saving features and switching to a more energy-efficient product have marginal effects. The most important thing is to use products longer.

Climate change, circularity and e-waste are closely linked

Improving the life cycle management of IT is a powerful way to reduce the climate impact. Today, we often give these products a short life. Once they are discarded, only a small percentage is recycled. Instead, virgin natural resources are used to produce new products, which leads to larger greenhouse gas emissions than if recycled materials were used.

In our mostly linear economy, we are overusing finite natural resources, and in our pursuit of them, natural habitats with vegetation which can capture carbon are being destroyed. The short life we give IT products also creates huge amounts of toxic e-waste – more than 50 million metric tons, a figure that grows every year. In many ways, climate change, circularity and e-waste are closely linked. Addressing one of these areas will have a positive impact on the other two.