The annual life cycle burden of a computer is 5,600 MJ (megajoules), however, only 34% of life cycle energy consumption occurs in the use phase. The rest of the energy is needed for the mining, manufacturing, packaging, and transportation processes that are required in making a computer. This is why it is important to remember that every stage of a computer's life has an impact on the environment and because of this, we need to do everything we can to reduce the impact.
A computer is made up of over 30 different minerals which are mined and extracted from the earth. Some of these minerals are silica, iron, aluminum, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, tin, selenium, manganese, arsenic, and cadmium. However, because these resources are nonrenewable, it is important that we use them as sustainably as possible.
Buying EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) registered products is one way to encourage this behavior because EPEAT considers material selection, life cycle extension, and end of life management in its rating system. In other words, EPEAT encourages the use of materials to their fullest capacity so nothing goes to waste.
Once the raw materials have been extracted from the earth, these minerals must go through various processes to be able to be transformed into the parts of a computer. Not only is this stage of the life cycle energy intensive, it also requires materials to be shipped from all around the world to each manufacturing plant. The finished parts are then shipped to a central location for the assembly of the computer.
When the manufacturing process of the computer is complete, it is ready for packaging. Packaging takes place to ensure the computer will not be damaged when transported. Generally, packaging requires the use of plastic, styrofoam, and cardboard.
The computers are then shipped, oftentimes overseas, to stores, businesses, and homes. Transportation relies on the use of fossil fuels, and because millions of computers are shipped from long distances, a lot of CO2 is released into the atmosphere.
Once a computer is in your home or office, it requires electricity to work. It is important to remember that the electricity we use may come from coal, petroleum, and/or natural gas, all of which contribute to climate change.
Reducing the amount of electricity you use by shutting off and unplugging electronics when not in use, using power-saving settings, and by buying energy efficient products can all help reduce your impact on the environment.
Closing the loop to the life cycle of a computer can help reduce the amount of energy and resources needed in the first stages of a computer's life. When a computer is at the end of its life, recycle it, donate it, or find a new use for it!