Environmentally friendly electronics: Do they exist?


Little about these TV screens is green. Finding sustainable technology to buy is still a nightmare for consumers. For now, you're better off looking for something you can use for a long time. — dpa

Sustainability and modern consumer electronics are two things that, at first glance, can't be reconciled. But that hasn't stopped some companies from trying. Is there a way to buy a new phone without helping to destroy the planet?

New smartphones, televisions and notebooks, smart speakers and lamps – the list of technical innovations is endless.

They all use a lot of electricity and resources. So do sustainable consumer electronics even exist? And if they do, how are we supposed to find them?

Producing truly sustainable electronics is not that easy, says Sebastian Kloess from the IT industry association Bitkom. The process starts with the resources and continues with the composition of the materials and the manufacturing of the device.

"The industry is becoming more and more aware of the topic," he says. This applies when reusing materials or purchasing raw materials from conflict-free sources.

While there is still no industry standard, there has been progress in the area. For example, Apple has started to reintegrate part of the raw materials from old iPhones into the production chain.

Some notebook and computer models are made from recycled aluminium while HP has unveiled devices whose mechanical parts are largely made from recycled materials.

Accessories manufacturer Nomad uses only certified leather for its smartphone cases and chargers. The company's CO2 emissions are offset. — dpaAccessories manufacturer Nomad uses only certified leather for its smartphone cases and chargers. The company's CO2 emissions are offset. — dpa

If you look hard enough, you'll also find tech companies that are committed to sustainability. There's Nomad, a US based maker of smartphone accessories, which, according to its founder Noah Dentzel, will become CO2-neutral this year.

There is no such thing as completely environmentally friendly consumer electronics, Dentzel says, but you can achieve improvements by doing things such as using environmentally friendly packaging and materials.

The Belgian company COO, maker of a Macbook dock, avoids plastic as much as it can, says founder Quentin Malgaud.

Avoid short lifespans

If doing without technology is not an option for consumers, what can they do to be more environmentally friendly? Using durable products is one option, according to Kloess.

"If you value sustainability, you might have to say goodbye to always having the latest gadget," he says.

Many devices become outdated at some point or even unsafe due to a lack of software updates. In the case of smartphones, it's worth taking a look at the manufacturer's update policy.

Apple's iPhones usually receive software updates for at least four years, while for devices from Google's Android One program it's at least for two to three years.

Tech that's repairable is also sustainable. German manufacturer Shiftphone builds its smartphones in such a way that users can replace defective batteries or cracked displays themselves.

In designing the Macbook Dock Linedock, manufacturer COO has avoided plastic parts as much as possible. — dpaIn designing the Macbook Dock Linedock, manufacturer COO has avoided plastic parts as much as possible. — dpa

Hidden burdens on the environment

Computers, televisions, and smartphones have an ecological footprint even after they have been manufactured. That's because a huge infrastructure of data centres and data cables is needed to keep them working – and that uses a lot of electricity.

To reduce your footprint in that area you can search for companies that use electricity from renewable energies. Greenpeace's regular ClickClean reports can help you find out which companies those are.

Worth taking note of is the stated power consumption of any device while TCO certification can also help you to find the most sustainable IT products. – dpa

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