We are living during an incredible time for advancement in computer technology. From making our businesses more productive and profitable to entertaining us at home, the way computers have affected our world has been revolutionary.
Our dependence on this technology, combined with our obsession for newer, better, faster, means we are always looking forward to the next product launch. In turn, we look back at our current model of computer which is now deemed outdated and unsuitable for use.
Without too much thought or reason, we replace our ‘old’ computer with this machine that has been labelled as thinner, more powerful and a must have for any business or individual.
However, this seemingly endless cycle of creating new products to replace our current ones come with environmental and social consequences.
The relentless drive of producing more will always rely on using more raw materials, toxic chemicals and energy, puts more pressure on factory workers and we have the huge problem of what to do with the old computer. Our culture of buying new means 160,000 laptops are disposed of every day in the EU alone.
Awareness and attitude towards these consequences are becoming popular amongst consumers, who are starting to change the way they buy products. This new, ethically driven consumer has increased pressure on the industry to change and improve its current model.
Using other industries for inspiration
We are already seeing new business emerge from this ethical revolution. From manufacturers to software solutions, there is a full supply chain of business all contributing to improving the current state of affairs.
We can take inspiration from how other industries are creating change and not just look internally at the computer market. A business called Fairphone are making waves in the mobile phone space, who have developed a modular phone that makes it very easy and cheap to repair. This manufacturing thought of repair rather than bin and upgrade creates a much longer lasting phone.
At the other end of the sustainable spectrum, some businesses are simply looking at how we can reduce our everyday activities. We shouldn’t always have to produce something new or different to become more sustainable, maybe we can just do less of the things that are producing the most ‘waste’. Companies like Business Wise Solutions use software to eliminate energy waste for businesses, which reduces carbon emissions and can save the business a lot on energy costs.
Ethical Laptop and Computer Issues
The current production model is all about replacing the old with new. As briefly highlighted already, this way of manufacturing and marketing products places a huge stress on the environment.
If every three years you bought a brand-new laptop, within ten years you would have contributed an average of 3,600kg minerals being mined, 570,000 litres of water being used and released 948kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
With more than 160 million new laptops made every year, the IT industry produces as much greenhouse gas pollution as the entire airline industry, contributing 2% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
By the time the laptop reaches its end user, whether that be an individual or a company, it has produced on average 316kg of carbon dioxide which is a leading contributor to global warming.
Manufacturing just one laptop takes around 1,200kg of minerals, which are extracted from the earth in mostly third world countries. These minerals are then refined and used in the final product, but this refinement process uses on average 190,000 litres of water.
It’s not uncommon for these natural materials to be sourced from conflict zones. The mining trade in these areas have been used to fund and perpetuate armed conflict, in particular the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Along with raw minerals and water, chemicals are also used in the production process that are known to be toxic.
Any plastic component may include the substances Brominated flame retardants (BFR) and Polyvinyl chloride (PVC). There is strong evidence these toxic chemicals are contaminating the environment by leaking phthalates and releasing carcinogenic dioxins.
Our throw away culture means many of our electrical products are not reused, recycled or remanufactured.
According to a UN report, 50 million tonnes of electronic waste is generated every year, and is expected to more than double by 2050. The production of laptops is responsible for around 17% of the total e-waste.
It’s not just environmental factors that should be addressed when discussing ethical laptop and computer issues.
The mines used to extract the raw materials often extort child labour, with children as young as 12 working in the pits.
A labour watchdog has claimed young Chinese students are working 12 hour days on production lines in factories that supply major computer manufacturers. These students were told if they did not comply, they would be refused funding and graduation certificates.
How to buy computers and laptops ethically
As the industry starts to take responsibility and action for these issues, consumers are gaining more power to make purchasing decisions based on ethics and sustainability.
Is it TCO Certified?
TCO is a trusted sustainability certification for IT products. Manufacturers must meet a certain criteria of environmental and social standards to gain this certificate.
Not only does this certification educate manufacturers to become more sustainable, it also helps give customers confidence to make responsible product choices.
Can it be repaired easily?
If buying new is the only option, consider how easy the laptop will be to fix.
A laptop that is easily repairable can have a far longer lifespan than one that isn’t. Being able to replace or upgrade the battery, storage drive and RAM will make your initial purchase last much longer. See how ifixit.com have ranked the repairability of laptops.
Buy remanufactured or refurbished
Due to the significant carbon footprint and environmental damage of manufacturing a new laptop, the best alternative is to buy refurbished or remanufactured.
Along with the environmental impact, major advances in computing technology are no longer being made year to year. This means a high-spec laptop from five years ago with good use would still match the abilities of a mid-spec laptop today. This creates less of an urgency to always buy new and gives an opportunity for reusing of older laptops.
It’s important to note the difference between a remanufactured and refurbished laptop.
Whilst refurbishing gets an old laptop into working order, remanufacturing is the process of returning the laptop to its original performance, with a warranty that is equivalent to when it was purchased new. In other words, remanufacturing is building a second-hand laptop that feels brand new, but without the associated costs.
Our remanufactured laptops are carbon neutral, perform 97% as good as new and cost 30% – 40% less.
For every laptop we supply, we plant 5 trees with our reforestation partners WeForest and One Tree Planted and are committed to projects in India, Africa and the USA.
Those trees help compensate for the carbon emissions released in the initial production and use of laptops, because IT shouldn’t cost the earth.