Greening the smart phone manufacturing supply chain

Greening the smart phone manufacturing supply chain

Numbers always tell a story. In the past five years alone (from 2016 to 2021), global smartphone use has nearly doubled, going from just over 3.6 billion users to an estimated 6.3 billion. This number could reach 7.5 billion by 2026. As more and more people move from feature phones to smartphones, this number will continue to move north and India is a great example of where this continues to happen, making it the second largest market for smartphones. In the world. But as more devices are produced, manufacturers are increasingly aware of the carbon footprint that each device creates during its life cycle – from component to landfill. This cannot be ignored anymore. While not all aspects of this can be controlled by manufacturers alone, they do have one important trick up their sleeve – supply chain greening that will offset some if not a lot of this sinister footprint.

The ICT sector consisting of personal computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets on the one hand and infrastructure such as data centers and telecom networks on the other, will contribute about 14% of the global carbon footprint by 2040. This will constitute more than 50% of the contribution made by the entire automotive and transportation sector worldwide which gives perspective on how important this is. While the smartphone industry specifically talks about the safe disposal and recycling of smartphones, this is not enough. The supply chain, from hardware assembly and packaging, distribution and subsequent transportation (to warehouses, retail centers and direct shipments to customers) contributed to 580 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2020.. 83% of this came from manufacturing, shipping, and use in the first year of the 1.4 billion new smartphones that were expected to be shipped in 2022. Usage-related emissions from another 3.1 billion smartphones in use during 2022 generated an additional 11%, while The rest is from refurbishing existing smartphones and end-of-life processes including recycling. Emissions associated with use also have an environmental impact. Just one hour of smartphone use per day for a year contributes an estimated 63kg of carbon dioxide emissions and this rises to nearly 90kg produced for 10 hours of use per day, during the same period.

The good news is that the telecom industry, including smartphone manufacturers, is now focusing its energy on reducing this carbon footprint: 5G networks, for example, are designed to reduce energy use compared to previous generation networks. But this is not enough. For manufacturers to truly reduce carbon generation, they need to ensure that smartphone manufacturing embraces an environmentally friendly supply chain. Here is the rule of three to keep in mind.

recycle – recycle – recycle – There is a significant opportunity to enhance the use of recycled materials across the supply chain that would offset carbon generation. Smartphones require precious metals and rare earths such as gold, tungsten and cobalt, and require high-intensity mining operations. The option to recycle and reuse these precious materials, unworkable only a few years ago due to the exorbitant costs, is now possible and has a strong environmental and economic meaning. Items inside circuit boards, batteries, and enclosures such as tin, cobalt and aluminum can also be reused and other parts including glass and backplates can also be used from recycled materials. Second, the industry needs to adopt circular packaging, i.e. packaging that uses sustainable or recycled materials. Finally, there must be a vibrant recycling ecosystem to ensure that old appliances do not end up in landfills.

Clean energy production and energy efficiency – There are two sides to this. The first is to ensure that manufacturing across the supply chain embraces a high degree of renewable energy. The production of integrated circuits and chips used in smartphones requires highly specialized manufacturing which in turn consumes huge amounts of energy. So much energy In fact, one large semiconductor plant can use more energy than an entire megacity. This is where the use of renewable energy in the manufacturing process becomes critical to reducing and minimizing the use of energy derived from fossil fuels. The second element is that the final device itself should be as energy efficient as possible, including the use of better battery technology that allows for longer use without frequent charging.

Build better and build smarter OEMs need to build stricter smartphones that reduce the need for frequent replacement. Whether that means more solid screens and back panels that don’t break easily, or higher water resistance, smartphones have to be more resilient if they are to be more environmentally sustainable. On the inside, we require operating systems that are more energy efficient than previous versions and backed by updates and security patches for longer to reduce replacements and obsolescence. This will ensure that owners keep their devices, especially the mid-range and premium ones, for longer. The European Union, for example, might introduce rules requiring smartphone manufacturers to provide security updates for five years starting in 2023..

Being aware of consumer and stakeholder scrutiny, the industry is making an effort to streamline operations and make them more sustainable. There is a clear realization that a green supply chain makes financial sense as well. Consequently, many aspects of the supply chain are being renewed, moving toward how manufacturers build, package and ship their devices. Going forward, the industry must adopt global or regional sustainability certifications and ensure that vendors receive similar certifications. As we move toward embracing the future of NetZero, the onus is on us to ensure that our business addresses social and environmental issues as much as it pursues customer satisfaction.



The opinions above are those of the author.

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