14 Jun 2024, 12:57
Sören Amelang

Increasing smartphone lifespans to at least five years could halve emissions from devices – report

Clean Energy Wire

Extending the average lifespan of smartphones to between five and seven years could reduce Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions from such devices by around half, according to a report by environmental think tank Wuppertal Institute for the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications. “Currently, smartphones in Germany are replaced after an average of 2.5 years. If their lifespan were extended, demand for new devices could be significantly reduced, which would translate into economic advantages for consumers in addition to the environmental benefits,” the institutes said in a joint press release. The key to extending the time consumers use their smartphones lies in adjusting the business model along the entire value-added chain, the report argues. “Producers should focus more on repairability and durability,” the organisations said. “This includes the design of modular smartphones that can be repaired more easily and the availability of affordable and readily available replacement parts.”

Security updates over a period of at least seven years are also crucial. Current update periods are four years for Android and six years for Apple devices. The authors called on the industry to focus on circularity by including the expansion of repair services and increasing offerings of refurbished devices by retailers and telecommunications providers. “The professional collection and recycling of devices that have reached the end of their life cycle must also become standard in order to recover – according to a Bitkom estimate – the 210 million unused mobile devices languishing in drawers in Germany,” the organisations said.

Information and communication technologies are responsible for around eight percent of Germany’s CO2 emissions, the organisations said. They added that around 20 million smartphones are sold in the country every year, according to digital industry association Bitkom. “The high consumption of valuable raw materials, such as precious metals and rare earths, exacerbates the problem,” the report states. Lead author Julia Reinhard, a researcher at the Wuppertal Institute, criticised that the standard smartphone life cycle has thus far primarily served the target group of “tech enthusiasts and those with a distinct sense for aesthetics,” who are particularly interested in new models and the most up-to-date technology. But other target groups, such as pragmatists, sustainability enthusiasts, price-sensitive users and long-term users, who make up an estimated user share of 60 percent, are open to using their smartphones for longer or purchasing refurbished devices. "Current business models, however, do not sufficiently exploit these groups," Reinhard said.

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