Greener Gadgets

Greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing computers are about half as high as they were about a decade ago, a study in Environmental Science & Technology suggests.

Laptops, tablets, and other gadgets are energy hogs. Manufacturing these products also results in greenhouse gas emissions, but figuring out how much is tricky.

The researchers studied production-related emissions for 11 electronic devices made in the last five years, including a monitor, iPad, Kindle, and desktop and laptop computers. Their approach was simple: Take the products apart and weigh the pieces. Then the team calculated emissions involved in processes such as obtaining raw materials, constructing the device, and transportation. They also compared these figures to emissions estimates for an older desktop computer, laptop, and monitor from 2002-04.

Not surprisingly, bigger devices had higher emissions associated with their manufacture. A large portion of the emissions were due to circuit boards, the team says. Production-related greenhouse gas emissions for a recently-made desktop, laptop, and monitor were about 50 to 60 percent lower than those of their older counterparts, partly because the older devices were much heavier.

Information and communication technology products “are getting lighter, becoming more integrated, and having a reduced impact,” the team writes. But these gains might be offset by people’s growing thirst for entire collections of gadgets, rather than a single computer. Roberta Kwok | 12 April 2013

Source: Teehan, P. and M. Kandlikar. 2013. Comparing embodied greenhouse gas emissions of modern computing and electronics products. Environmental Science & Technology doi: 10.1021/es303012r.

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