A joule is equal to the energy transferred to an object when a force of one newton acts on that object in the direction of its motion through a distance of one meter.

1 joule is about equivalent to the energy of two heartbeats. Or lifting 100 grams 1 meter. Or the energy released when 100 grams falls 1 meter.

A watt hour is equal to the work done by one watt (1 joule per second) acting for one hour.

1 watt hour is 3,600 joules. Or, the energy to lift 100 grams 3,600 meters. Or, the energy released when 100 grams falls 3,600 meters. That's about the height of 8 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other.

The life cycle of electronic devices includes the mining and processing of natural resources, manufacturing, transport, retail, use, and its reuse, recycling or disposal.

Embodied energy is the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with production: the life cycle up until the use phase.

Electronics production life cycle

How much energy does it take to produce a smartphone?

An efficient LED lightbulb consumes 10 watt hours of energy when it is kept on for 1 hour.

One of these light bulbs on for 4 days (100 hours), or 100 lightbulbs on for 1 hour, consumes 1 kilowatt hour of energy.

1,000 watt hours = 1 kilowatt hour

100 lightbulbs

Producing one smartphone consumes about 100 kilowatt hours of energy. That would be 10,000 lightbulb hours: a light bulb turned on for 416 days.

100 lightbulbs 100 lightbulbs 100 lightbulbs 100 lightbulbs 100 lightbulbs 100 lightbulbs 100 lightbulbs 100 lightbulbs 100 lightbulbs 100 lightbulbs

Through a combination of energy-intensive production methods, planned obsolescence, and a 2-5 year use window, many modern electronic devices have an embodied energy of 70-80%. That is, 70-80% of the energy consumed by the entire lifecycle of these products is associated with their production phase.

80 percent

This means we consume the most energy when we buy or replace our laptops, tablets, e-readers, smartphones, Internet of Things devices, and really anything that includes an integrated circuit.

Retail phase

As an individual, it's difficult to change the infrastructure and supply chains on which an entire industry relies. One way to address the problem is to extend the life of your devices through repair.

Repair phase

Network connectivity also adds to energy consumption. The information communication technology (ICT) sector represents 3-5% of global energy consumption, and this percentage is expected to grow. This estimate does not take into account the production of internet infrastructure, like servers and data centers.

Data centers are a huge proportion of internet energy use, and blockchain technologies are exacerbating this.

It is important to examine the risks associated with global communications networks that depend on a supply of cheap energy, and our role in the life cycle of electronics.

For Consumers

Tools, resources, and media, to help make more ecologically conscious purchase, use, and disposal choices.

Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics

Ecological responsibility rating system for consumer electronics brands.

Companies Taking Action

List of companies committing to science-based targets to reduce carbon emissions.


Open source guides for repairing common consumer electronics items. Ranking and scores for product repairability. Advocates for Right to Repair legislation.

The Repair Association

Advocates for Right to Repair legislation.


Company creating modular, repairable smartphones and advancing ethical sourcing.


Company creating modular, repairable computers and advancing ethical sourcing.

Electronics and Appliances Recycling at Best Buy

Free e-waste recycling at Best Buy (fees for TVs and computer monitors in Pennsylvania & Illinois.).

Electronics Recycling at Staples

Free e-waste recycling at Staples.

Global E-Waste Monitor

A comprehensive overview of global E-Waste statistics.

The Lightbulb Conspiracy

Documentary on the history of planned obsolescence.

The Last Slide Projector

Documentary on the history of the slide projector and it's obsolescence.

Death By Design

Documentary on the electronics industry effects on human health and the environment.

This is what we die for: Child labour in the DRC cobalt mines

Amnesty International documentary on human rights abuses in the cobalt supply chain.

Story of Stuff

Web series and podcast on product lifecycles.

For Companies

Tools for producers and designers interested in assessing the ecological impact of their products, or changing the way their source, collect, and discard what they make.

Sustainable Minds

User-friendly lifecycle assessment software for more environmentally conscious product design.


Open source lifecycle assessment software.


Industry standard, customizable lifecycle assessment software.

The ICE database

Inventory of embodied energy and carbon database for assessing projects.

Green Electronics Council

Advocates for sustainable Information Technology purchasing decisions and maintainers of EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) database.

Electronics TakeBack Coalition

A coalition of organizations promoting green design, responsible recycling, and extended producer responsibility in the electronics industry.


The housing-body for the R2 StandardĀ for responsible reuse, repair, and recycling of electronic products.

For Legislators

Resources for legislation that promotes sustainability.

The Basel Convention

The United States is not a signatory of the Basel Convention. Agitate to ratify the treaty and ban the international trade of hazardous waste.

Inventory of State E-Waste Recycling Legislation

Electronics TakeBack Coalition's inventory of State E-Waste recycling legislation, including legislation toolkit and comparison of State Laws.

Right to Repair, Fair Repair, & Copyright Reform

The Repair Association is promoting legislation at the State and Federal levels, and their site includes a legislative template.

Product Stewardship Institute

Organization that develops and promotes the adoption of extended producer responsibility legislation.


This project was created as part of Jasmine Soltani's thesis at ITP.

Icons for the production lifecycle diagram are from the Noun Project. Mining & Factory Worker & Internet Router Wifi by Gan Khoon Lay. Shipping by Alina Oleynik. Laptop by Saeful Muslim. Repair by Leona Grande. Recycling by Nikita Kravchuk. Waste by Marie Van den Broeck.