CO2 Emissions of Phone Use

Hey everyone,

I recently came across an article discussing the C02 emissions associated with phone use, and given the environmentally conscious nature of the Fairphone community, I’m eager to hear your insights on this matter.

While there’s a good deal of knowledge about the environmental impact of phone production, I sense there’s less awareness about the impact during actual phone usage. Considering Fairphone’s existing interventions in its operating system for mental health (like screentime features), what if we could also integrate interventions that raise awareness about the climate impacts of phone use?

What are your thoughts on this idea? Would you be interested, and if so, how would you envision its implementation? I’m keen to hear your ideas and perspectives!


Make it an app that interested users can download and install. I don’t see how this should be part of an “operating system” at all. Neither do I see this with “screentime features” (this also should be an App in my opinion). I don’t want political idiology pushed against me on every front.

If this would come it would be a reason more for me to NOT use the fairphone flavor of Android.

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Thank you for your reply, I understand that you would not like this to be incorporated into the OS. I am personally quite annoyed of all the Apps I have to download. What would you think about it as being a part of the Fairphone App that is pre-installed?

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Hello, could you please share some more information on the topic? I am not even aware of the functions already there like screentime in relation to mental health.
Without googling I would assume that the impact of the actual phone usage is minimal when compared to production, and it might be connected with the battery usage, hence electricity and clouds/internet services - then again electricity to power up networks and servers.
I read once estimates of CO2 emissions linked to streaming but I guess it should not really matter which device I am using for streaming.

Will gladly learn more.

See, and I am personally quite annoyed of all the bloat users have to uninstall when dealing with today’s operating systems (it’s the same for regular computers). This covers both, things that are baked into the operating system (which are harder to get rid of, if possible at all) and/or pre-installed programs/apps.

And I would love to see Fairphone to invest the $$$ I’ve given them as a customer (for some years now, 1xFP2 and 2xFP5) into R&D of their actual product: the smartphone - and not into such apps.

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Surely that’s because they’re almost nil (excepting CO2 emissions associated with server activity due to searches etc). Phones really do use very little power: boiling one kettle burns through more power than running the thing for a year. The phone’s CO2 emissions due to power usage for its entire lifetime are probably only a percentage point or so of the CO2 emissions from building the thing in the first place.

I think that FP somehow tried to integrate that or similar in the my Fairphone App, and I had the feeling it did not went very well…

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Yes but things like watching videos on social media for hours on end surely has some sort of impact? I’m just thinking of the social media companies with mountains of streamed data on their servers. Like we all probably use our phones a bit too much and try limit our screen time, maybe this is just another incentive to realise - ‘yeah I should get off my phone’.

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Hi Meaghan,

With screen time functions, I am for example referring to “Digital Wellbeing” controls where you can set App timers or a Bedtime mode to limit your time on screen.

In terms of environmental impact, you’re right that phone use has less impact on the environment than production (Apple e.g. states that 72% of the carbon emissions happen during the production of their Macbook and 22% during the device usage Still, I think that it should not be disregarded, and awareness around this should be increased. As you already said, C02 emissions are connected to activities like streaming, storing your data in a cloud, or even just reading a new page that is loaded with ads. This is why I thought a C02 emission usage overview could be integrated in the settings of FP (similar to how you can view your screen time) to incentivize users to use their phone more consciously or even less in general. Just wanted to hear the communities’ opinion and ideas on this. Maybe you even have a better idea?

Thanks :blush:

Thanks for the explanation.

I am a bit sceptical to be honest. Why singling out the phone usage in such a way?
Perhaps the wider comparison would be more beneficial, like

  • having meetings online versus travelling
  • reading news online versus printing
  • streaming versus buying new content ( with special attention given to artists rights)
  • shopping online versus commuting and maintaining shopping centres

I work in the education and I am bit of an old school in terms of for example my preference for onsite teaching or traditional onsite exams. Still most of the teaching materials are digitised and students find it easy to read them on laptops, phones, tablets, ebook readers etc. Does it matter what devices they use in terms of climate change? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. I guess such wide comparison would be of interest to me

You might be surprised how much energy search and other services use. You’re right that phones themselves use little power, but these types of services use significant amounts of energy and have a significant environmental footprint. And you are always using lots of them, the local cell tower you connect to, the network infrastructure you use, and the end user services you are using (and their associated background data gathering) will all contribute.

Oh, agreed, though even that probably uses less power than trying to do the same thing locally (especially search, which is almost impossible to implement locally, and which would be physically impractical to implement in the old way of going to the library all the time, and far more energy- and time-expensive if you could: but of course since it’s more convenient now, we do a lot more of it…)

On July 14, 2020, the German “Öko-Institut e.V.” published a very detailed study about the carbon footprint of digital activities.

The environmental costs of mobile phones and their use are covered in chapters 3.3, 4.1.3 and 4.1.4 of this study. As you can probably imagine things are quite complicated and everything depends on the concrete circumstances.

Unfortunately the study is available in German only, afaik.
Here is the description and here comes the study itself.

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Thanks mamue this looks good I will take a look!

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