What Is The Carbon Footprint Of A Laptop?

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According to Worldometer (based on Gartner Dataquest), upwards of 260 million (as of 2021) new laptops are manufactured every year, making the IT industry responsible for as much greenhouse gas pollution as the entire airline industry. ICT’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions ranged between 1.8 to 2.8% in 2020. In a business-as-usual scenario, assuming the emission intensity of electricity used remains unchanged, the ICT sector would be responsible for 830 MT of CO2 emissions by 2030 according to Allianz. 

Internet usage continues to rise, with more people using mobiles and tablets in their everyday lives. The environmental impact of IT is therefore also set to increase significantly. 

As businesses and individuals, we are all starting to become aware of how our everyday activities affect the environment, and whether we can make a positive change to lower our carbon footprint. 

There are some simple solutions to reducing CO2 emissions which do not require a huge shift in process or mentality. We examine one of those solutions in this article and how you can reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing sustainable IT. 

Note: Carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide CO2 and methane CH4) of a defined activity. 

How much CO2 does a laptop produce?

The average estimated carbon footprint of a laptop is around 331kg, which includes the carbon emissions during production, transportation and first 4 years of use. 

It should be noted there is a large variation in CO2 emissions depending on the manufacturer and size of the laptop. In all manufacturers’ estimates, they suggest their CO2 could be +/- 15 to 20% due to the uncertainty of their calculations. 

Carbon footprint during the production of a laptop 

Our research of 230 specific laptops suggests an average carbon footprint of 331 kilograms of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) for a new laptop during production. 

This means that just 3 new laptops produce nearly a tonne of CO2, which is equivalent to filling a bus or a house.  

Build – The manufacture of a laptop is between 75% – 85% of the overall carbon footprint, where most emissions come from the production and materials used for the motherboard, SSD and display. 

With the consideration of the CO2 emissions created as mentioned above, there are also 190,000 litres of water used and 1,200kgs of earth mined. The components of a typical laptop also routinely contain mercury, lead, chromium, and other heavy metals that provide power and maintain functionality.  

Shipping – Transportation is another factor that adds to the carbon footprint of laptops, as the emissions caused by vehicles in the supply chain impact Scope 3 (supply chain) emissions.  

Most emissions of this kind come from the air transport of the laptops from the country of assembly to the country of use. Far less CO2 would be emitted if the laptop were transported via ocean or land only. 

Most manufacturers state between 6% – 12% of the laptop’s CO2 emissions are during transportation. For this article, we have stated the transportation emissions as 30 kgCO2eq. 

Carbon footprint during use of a laptop

To measure the carbon footprint of a laptop, we must consider the entire lifecycle which includes everyday use. The lifetime of a laptop is estimated to be 4 years and it is assumed that a laptop is used 8 hours per day.  

The energy consumption use varies quite significantly, and most manufacturers state that estimates are uncertain. Nonetheless, for the laptops we remanufacture, HP has the lowest footprint during use, around 32 kgCO2eq and the Lenovo T450 has the highest at 91 kgCO2eq. 

For our calculations of overall carbon footprint, we used the median figure 61.5 kgCO2eq. 

Indirect carbon footprint concerns 

Whilst this article has focused on the direct use of laptops, it is important to understand that using the internet has its carbon emission issues. Browsing online is not 100% green and the ‘Cloud’ is large data centres that require a great deal of energy to power and cool down.  

End of life of a laptop 

It is very important we keep the laptop’s end of life on the agenda because of the environmental impact it creates, as we have discussed here. However, in terms of carbon footprint, the reported CO2 emissions are negligible from almost every manufacturer.  

Most report a 1 or <1 kgCO2eq from recycling the laptop and do not include it on their carbon footprint report. 

How businesses can reduce their IT carbon footprint

As we have now established, the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint of a laptop is during the manufacturing process.  

So, what if we could remove that CO2 impact of buying a new laptop and purchase another way? Without doing anything else, this would help reduce the carbon footprint of buying a laptop by 85%. 

Alternatives to buying new – Circular Computing remanufactured laptops

‘Remanufactured’ laptops are new to the technology world as we have developed this process over the recent years. We coined this term in the IT sector as it reflected what we do – rebuild the used laptops to deliver a performance that is truly comparable to new. 

We re-use all parts that are not defective and give the device a new look – rebuilt and refinished; inside and out. We replace or upgrade selected components to deliver unrivalled quality. 

Five trees are planted for every Circular Computing™ laptop to help compensate for the ‘embodied’ carbon emissions from its original manufacture and first three years of use. 

View our Sustainability Calculator – Circular Computing™ see the positive impact you could make by procuring remanufactured laptops instead of new. 

How to lower the carbon footprint of a laptop

There are several steps we can take to lower the carbon footprint of our laptops at work or home. 

Turn off when not in use – Your laptop and monitors do not need to be on when they are not in use. A simple solution but make sure you power off and shut down overnight and at the weekend. 

Manage the laptop’s power plan – The built-in power options will mean the laptop can go to sleep or shut down if left unresponsive for a certain amount of time. Other simple ways of lowering the power output are to lower the brightness level on your screen and turn off screen savers. 

Try to fix – Instead of buying a new laptop as soon as something goes wrong, you should try to extend the life of the laptop by getting it repaired. 

Recycle – If it is time to replace your laptop, consider sending it to a dedicated IT recycling program -they will quite often pay you for the machine. Your other option could be offering the laptop to a charity that will pass it on to schools or individuals who need it.  

Are laptops more environmentally friendly than desktops? 

In comparison with larger desktops, laptops have a smaller ecological footprint during their lifespan, but they can still potentially cause environmental damage if not managed properly when they become obsolete or unusable. The smaller size and compact nature of laptops translate into a less significant impact on natural resources than that of a comparable desktop for example.  

Additionally, laptops use significantly less energy owing to fewer components, built-in monitors and efficient CPUs that extend battery life. For example, with moderate use, desktops can use from 60 to 194 watts of energy per day. Laptops, on the other hand, burn from 19 to 60 watts when used at a moderate activity level, resulting in up to 90 percent less energy use.  

Interestingly, laptops are more sustainable than devices such as smartphones as they have a significantly longer lifespan. People often keep laptops for 4 or 5 years, whereas it is common to upgrade a smartphone within two years, on average.  

Laptops are not the worst offender, in terms of carbon footprint. But how they are produced matters, from the planetary resources required to do so, to their ‘final’ destination when they become obsolete is especially important.  

Examining all the alternatives, especially remanufacturing, is essential when purchasing a laptop. Its impact on the planet is a key factor in today’s rush to be carbon neutral.  

It is an achievable goal to purchase a truly carbon-neutral laptop and there are real alternatives to buying new. What was once a daunting prospect is no longer the case. 

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