Electronics have saturated our daily lives. By 2020, it is expected that more than 6 billion people will own a smartphone. Yet very few of us consider the environmental cost of our electronic devices, which can be surprisingly steep.
Now, a new report from Greenpeace USA reveals that major electronic companies around the world have been avoiding renewable energy and keeping secret the environmental footprint of their devices.
The Guide to Greener Electronics, which analysed the environmental impact of 17 of the world's largest electronic companies, was published this week in an attempt to challenge the IT sector to take responsibility for its "rapidly growing footprint on the planet."
The report ranked electronic companies on transparency, commitment, performance and advocacy efforts in their use of renewable energy, their consumption of resources and the elimination of hazardous chemicals from their products.
The findings of the report reveal a significant lack of renewable energy initiatives from the majority of these companies, despite the massive environmental cost of producing electronics.
Smartphones and other electronic devices are among "the most resource intensive by weight on the planet", with more than 30 kilos of rock needed to obtain the 100 grams of minerals used in an average smartphone.
And while 70 to 80 percent of emissions from personal electronic devices occur during manufacturing, the report notes that Apple is the only company that has committed to 100% renewable power for its supply chain. Therefore, it is no surprise that Apple ranks second only to Fairphone in the guide's rankings.
Many of the other companies did not fare quite as well.
Even though Samsung is the largest manufacturer of smartphones worldwide, according to the report, "the company is holding the sector back by failing to tackle its climate change responsibility by committing to 100% renewable energy for its operations." In fact, just 1 percent of Samsung's energy use in 2016 came from renewables.
As a result, Samsung received a D in energy, a D in resources and a D minus in chemicals.
Meanwhile, the report found that Amazon remains one of the least transparent companies in the world in terms of its environmental performance.
The report noted that while Amazon is happy to tell the public about its renewable energy deals, the company still refuses to report its greenhouse gas footprint, and they provide very few details about the source of the recycled materials that are supposedly going into its devices.
In addition, the company does not "publish any restrictions on hazardous chemicals in its devices."
The company received a D in Energy, a D minus in resources and a failing grade in chemicals.
But while Amazon may be the least transparent, other companies are equally as secretive. Of the 17 companies evaluated, only six published a basic list of suppliers, and only Fairphone and Dell provided details from each supplier.
Even more appalling is the fact that among the top three brands in the smartphone market, Huawei is the only one that reports anything about its supply chain emissions. However, even Huawei is called out in the report for lacking "substantial commitment in renewable energy".
In the past, the Greenpeace guide has helped electronic companies pinpoint areas of improvement, and this year's report offers three solutions to improving the IT sector's environmental impact.
The report concludes that these companies need to take more responsibility for the supply chain footprint by increasing transparency and transitioning to renewable energy.
The report also argues for the creation of more sustainable devices through the elimination of hazardous materials and the implementation of recycled materials.
Lastly, the report calls for these companies to improve the life-span of their devices in order to produce less waste.
Only when these three steps have been taken will these companies have a chance to improve their grades.