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Greenpeace calls for sustainable smartphone manufacturing

Electronic waste and the carbon emissions from manufacturing are among the areas smartphone makers must address, says environmental organisation

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As the smartphone fest in Barcelona kicks off with Mobile World Congress 2017, environmental campaign group Greenpeace has called on manufacturers to clean up their act.

Greenpeace’s From Smart to Senseless report warned: “Electronics manufacturing is highly energy-intensive and its energy footprint is growing significantly, as the volume and complexity of our electronic devices continues to expand.”

According to its research, manufacturing of devices is by far the most carbon-intensive phase of smartphones, accounting for nearly three-quarters of total CO2 emissions.

Greenpeace has calculated that since 2007, about 968TWh has been used to manufacture smartphones – almost as much electricity as one year’s power for India, which used 973TWh in 2014.

Although smartphones have become increasingly energy-efficient over the years, which has helped to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the use phase, the manufacturing phase remains hugely reliant on fossil fuels, according to the environmental group.

The report noted that the vast majority of smartphone production – both for component manufacturing and assembly – occurs in Asia, and China alone accounts for 57% of global telephone exports. In China, the energy mix used to power manufacturing plants comes from an electricity grid dominated by coal, at 67% – a key factor driving the high carbon footprint of electronic devices, which, in turn, contributes to global warming.

Based on a 2016 survey by Greenpeace East Asia of consumer habits around the world, more than half felt smartphone manufacturers were releasing too many new models each year. Also, more than 80% of respondents felt it was important for new phones to be easily repaired and designed to last.

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Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner at Greenpeace USA, said: “When you consider all of the materials and energy required to make these devices, their short lifespans, and the low rate of recycling, it is clear we cannot continue this way. We need devices that last longer and, ultimately, we need companies to embrace a new, circular production model.”

Greenpeace urged manufacturers to develop phones that can be repaired and have user-replaceable batteries.

“The short lifespans of smartphones exacerbate the toll these devices take on the planet’s finite resources,” the From Smart to Senseless report said. “Brands need to design phones that are easy to repair and contain standard parts that can be replaced without needing to replace the whole device. Software updates should extend, or at minimum not end, older products’ lifespans.”

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