Sustainability and the digital world: Making our devices more environmentally friendly. Part 2.

The second instalment of this two parter looks at how the production of digital is using Earth's rare elements and why the future of our electronic devices is looking greener.

In part 1, we looked at the environmental impact of charging your digital device and how data centres strive to be more sustainable. Today, we will focus on how digital is using Earth's resources and then look at the positives of embracing modern technology.

3. Resources

New smartphones can be incredibly expensive. The price of the new iPhone 5 is £529 if you are thinking of buying it outright, and that's the cheapest with the 64GB model costing a staggering £699 pounds. For that price, you'd hope the thing was made out of gold.

In fact, some of it is. Gold is used in electronics more and more as it is a great conductor. It is estimated that most modern phones contain about 50¢ worth of gold. Not worth ripping your phone apart for but the costs add up.


Gold is the least of our worries though, as modern technology relies heavily on rare Earth elements. A majority of these elements are being mined from China, who have recently revealed that they may only have around 1/3 left. Although it is believed that we aren't on the way to running out but it is an issue we have to look at.


Recycling is the best solution. There are many schemes to get people to recycle their old products, often coming with financial incentives, but what is lacking is education. Apple currently have a program to recycle people's old Apple products as well as any old mobile phone and improvements are happening (see below).


Another solution is making the products run more efficiently and last longer, and news has come out today (from TechCrunch) that researchers at the University of California San Diego have come up with new algorithms, which could cut lithium-ion battery charge by half. This would not only improve the end-product, but help cut production costs by 25%

4. The bright side

After all of this talk, it can seem tempting to pack away the laptop, switch off the mobile phone and go back to the good old days of analogue but the truth is that things have improved and are continuing to improve.

Digital devices are constantly being worked on to be better in every way. Sustainability is a critical global issue that major companies cannot ignore. It's clear that leading smartphone producing tech companies are becoming more environmentally friendly with their newer models.


Also, digital can change the way whole companies work. We can look at the US military and how they replaced their traditional flight bags to a digital version on iPads. They cut down on a monumental amount of paper and improved the safety of flights as pilots could keep their head up and find important documents more easily.

We believe that digital technology can improve lives. Through awareness of how we develop and use products, we can encourage technology that is also less harmful to the environment.