Comparing Embodied Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Modern Computing and Electronics Products

Posted by Lucas Volpini C...
Publication year: 
Eletronic devices
Quality and sources
Is the study a: 
Detailed LCA
Was a critical review performed?: 
Functional unit: 
1 product
Goal and scope of the summary: 
Information and communications technology (ICT) contributes substantially to global greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutant emissions, but it is time-consuming to estimate the environmental impacts caused by the production of ICT devices, and the literature lacks coverage for newer products. Using a process-sum life cycle assessment (LCA) approach, we estimate and compare the embodied GHG emissions of 11 ICT products, including large- and small-formfactor desktop and laptop personal computers, a thin client device, an LCD monitor, newer mobile devices (an Apple iPad, an iPod Touch, and an Amazon Kindle), a rack server, and a network switch. Full bills of materials are provided via hand disassembly and weighing and are mapped to processes in the ecoinvent v2.2 database to produce impact estimates. Results are analyzed to develop simplified impact estimation models using linear regressions based on product characteristics. A simple and robust linear relationship between mass and embodied emissions is identified; a more sophisticated linear model using display mass, battery mass, and circuit board mass as inputs is slightly more accurate. Embodied GHG emissions for newer products are 50−60% lower than corresponding older products with similar functionality, largely due to decreased material usage, especially reductions in integrated circuit content.

This work compares modern ICT products to those originally
modeled almost a decade ago in the ecoinvent database. In all
three cases, the newer products’ embodied GHG emissions are
an estimated 50−60% lower than those of the corresponding
older products. This decrease is mainly caused by a reduction in
total mass and a proportional decrease in integrated circuits and
circuit boards, the result of systems becoming more highly
integrated and thus using fewer ICs. These products were chosen
to be roughly representative of typical products within their
respective categories, so we can reasonably infer that over time
ICT products are getting lighter, becoming more integrated, and
having a reduced impact. However, efficiency trends in IT
products are counteracted by increased growth in the installed
base of existing products and the emergence of new
complementary products; the overall impact of the IT industry,
or of a consumer’s personal collection of IT products, depends
on the relative strength of these competing trends, which we have
not analyzed here.

Material impact(s): 
Global warming

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