Smartphones have the potential to support sustainable development, yet their production causes significant environmental and social damage. Johanna Tilkanen reveals some of the key issues, and what companies, policymakers and consumers can do
We already have the solutions to create a more sustainable ICT industry
Did you know that without significant reduction in ICT’s energy demand, the sector could contribute more than 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2040?
The smartphones and other ICT devices that connect us, help us do our jobs, and get us through our daily lives come with a huge sustainability cost. They are harmful to the environment, to the people who make them, and to the communities affected by the complex global supply chains surrounding them.
According to the World Economic Forum, e-waste is now the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, reaching 48.5 million tonnes in 2018. Add this to conflict minerals, poor working conditions and soaring carbon emissions and it’s clear that the industry needs a complete transformation.
And it needs to happen fast – the 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is just over ten years away. Luckily, we don’t need to start from zero.
Transform Together is calling for change
Transform Together, convened by Bioregional, works with civil society, governments and businesses to advance sustainable consumption and production. It seeks to identify ICT best practice, and then to help scale and replicate it to meet the SDGs.
We have already found some inspiring real-life examples that show how things can be done better. These include:
- designing long-lasting products
- selling phones as a service rather a product
- second-hand laptops made as good as new
- responsible raw material sourcing initiatives
- e-waste legislation in India improving livelihoods in the informal sector
- ground-up workers’ rights monitoring
- progressive ecolabels
- decarbonising ICT supply chains
- circular ICT procurement
- and innovative offsetting schemes.
By addressing entire product lifecycles, these case studies show that in many ways we already know how to be sustainable. But the brilliant organisations and individuals behind them cannot change the course alone. For the system reset to happen, everyone needs to get on board.
Let’s transform together
That is why we are inviting everyone to take action together with us. We are building a global partnership on sustainable smartphones and ICT with a vision for 2030.
The best practice shown in our new series of case studies will help us reach our vision but they need to become commonplace. You can make a difference as a business, government, procurement professional, civil society organisation, or individual.
Look through any of Transform Together's case studies and you will see that positive change is possible. Pick an action from their ‘keys to success’ or ‘next steps’ that you could take in your own sphere of influence. Or send the idea to someone else who you know could take it forward. Whether big or small, we need it. What is the action you are going to take?