What is Embodied Carbon?
“Embodied Carbon” is a term used to describe the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions associated with the manufacture of products. This sometimes also includes the CO2e emissions relating to the extraction, refining, processing and transport of materials used and the transport of the finished product to first use. It is a way of articulating that every product has an associated CO2e emissions price.
Together with the GHG emissions associated with powering the device during use phase, and the carbon emissions associated with destruction at end of life, embodied carbon is part of a product’s carbon footprint.
Embodied carbon is particularly difficult to calculate for the electronics industry because the supply chain is long and complex. Some of the raw materials are very rare and are sourced in different areas of the world. They have to be shipped to the component manufacturers, who are often based in the Far East. The components are then shipped to the assembly plants, which could be in Europe and the US. The finished product then reaches the customer through long distribution channels.
This creates a problem for accurate reporting. Different manufacturers can publish different figures for embodied carbon on similar pieces of equipment. This can be because of assumptions made about component manufacture site and product assembly site. It can also relate on the Life Cycle Analysis software they use. Sometimes they also make different decisions on how to define the product (for a server, it would mean number of CPUs, grade and size of memory, type of storage) and also how they define pre-use (to distributer or retail outlet, for example).
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Taking Embodied Carbon into Account
Despite the issues around accuracy, it is helpful to recognise that every product and material has an embodied carbon cost. This will rise if it is manufactured in an area where a lot of fossil fuels are used in electricity generation and if there is a lot of transport required to deliver the product.
Therefore, making smart decisions about what you buy and how you buy it can help reduce our overall carbon footprint on a global scale. For example, purchasing local food that hasn’t been imported from overseas (producing vast quantities of carbon in air miles) cuts down on the embodied carbon of what we eat.
Furthermore, reducing how much we buy and making the most of what we have allows us to decrease how much carbon we produce. The manufacturing process is one of the most carbon-intensive in the world, and the majority of GHG emissions for many products – 75-85% for a laptop – are produced at that stage.
With this in mind, taking care to extend the lifespan of goods and repairing where possible means that fewer electronics need to be purchased and works to reduce society’s carbon footprint as a whole.
Embodied Carbon and Refurbished
The technology industry is one of the biggest contributors to carbon production. For example, the carbon footprint for the manufacturing of mobile phones is equal to that of the Philippines (a country with over 100 million people) every year.
However, if we work to extend the lifespan of technology through refurbishment, reuse, repair and eventually recycling, we can slow the global consumption of technology and the overall carbon footprint of the industry as a whole.
For example, if we had extended the lifespan of every mobile phone sold in 2018 by using them for 1/3 longer, we would have prevented GHG emissions equal to the annual production of Ireland. As sales of mobile phones increase year on year, this potential saving is also growing.
We have spent hours dedicated to the research of the embodied carbon cost of electronics and enterprise grade IT hardware. By delving into hundreds of studies and analysis reports, we are now able to identify the embodied carbon cost of purchasing new devices and how much can be saved if we reuse old devices instead.
The average laptop contains around 280 kg of embodied CO2e, while a server contains around 922 kg CO2e. Refurbishment extends the lifespan of devices that may have otherwise ended up in landfill prematurely and decreases demand for the manufacturing of new devices; for every refurbished device sold, one fewer has to be manufactured.
Refurbished products can be acquired in many different industries (although you may want to avoid refurbished food!). Exploring refurbished or second hand in the clothing, car, furniture or housing markets can also work to reduce the world’s carbon footprint.
Techbuyer Sustainable IT Solutions
Techbuyer is a global provider of sustainable IT solutions and, as such, we are dedicated to improving the impact of technology on our planet. We offer new and high-quality refurbished IT solutions, as well as product lifespan extension services for your hardware and secure IT disposal to provide an end-to-end solution for your technology. Get in touch to find out what we can do for you or your business or learn more about our sustainable IT solutions.
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