Before buying a new smartphone, you should consider its climate impact

New smartphone with box on blue background. Minimalism concept, unboxing
ByTebany Yune

Environmental researchers and activists have pushed for a change in consumer behavior to force corporations to alter their harmful business practices. A recent study from researchers at McMaster University have prompted calls for change again — this time, against brand new smartphones. The study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Publication, found that the energy and carbon footprint behind purchasing a brand new smartphone was equivalent to using a single smartphone for 10 years.

The problem with smartphones, as detailed by Fast Company, is their purposefully short life-spans. Smartphones requires the mining of rare minerals as ingredients for parts, which emits an enormous amount of CO2 in the process. The team behind the study also discovered that producing phones with larger screens had a worse carbon footprint. This finding, coupled with the fact that less than one percent of all smartphones are recycled, means the carbon footprint of the Information and Communication Industry (ICT) is fast on its way to becoming half as large as the transportation industry's by 2040.

Smartphones require another thing that can harm the environment: Servers and data centers. The more we desire a 24/7 connection to the internet, the more we encourage burning energy and creating emissions to get our social media fix. Worse yet, the more 'smart' products people develop, the more we'll need those servers.

"Unless the supporting infrastructure moves quickly to 100% renewable power, the emergence of ['smart' products] could potentially dwarf the contribution of all the other traditional computing devices," wrote the authors of the study. This could "dramatically increase the overall global emissions well beyond the projections of this study."

There is some hopeful news. The researchers state that holding onto your current smartphone for an extra year (for three years instead of two, for example) could significantly reduce your carbon footprint. There's no need to mine for more materials to satisfy a demand, after all. The team also suggests people continue to support corporations and government regulators making the switch to renewable energy for their servers. And, finally, be a little more hesitant about your purchasing options. Take a moment to consider whether you really, really need to use a 'smart oven' in your home to cook your meal.