The Footprint of TechJuly 30, 2020 · Aaron Burr
👩🏾💻Checking our email, sending a text, scrolling through instagram, googling “How to save the planet”: all of these things require electronic devices. Both our work and our leisure have become so molded around our devices they tend to feel like a part of us now.
Turns out, most of us are cyborgs already.
But no, the point of this post isn’t to dip into the threats of artificial intelligence,🤖 it’s to dip into the impact that our tech devices have on the natural world.
Hold on to your macbooks, cause here we go.🚀
There are multiple aspects of our tech that make up the total footprint. In this article we will go over:
- The footprint of tech such as: manufacturing, extraction of materials, and cloud storage/processing
- Some future concerns to keep in mind
At first glance, we may assume that our devices have the most impact from running them and ⚡️drawing power. But when we look into the footprint of our devices we will find that a vast majority of it comes from manufacturing and extraction of materials.
The lines between manufacturing and extraction/processing of raw materials are a bit blurred, so that’s why they are kind of grouped together.
Like any other product being manufactured, tech devices have a footprint coming from:
- Water consumption
- Toxic pollution of the air, water, and land
- Waste products like pulps, solutions, and unused materials
While every product has a manufacturing footprint, some have a bigger footprint than others. 🏭Electronic devices have a heavy manufacturing footprint because of the materials used as well as the nature of the process.
The process requires precision that can only be achieved through wasting some materials, as well as using energy and resources in a certain way. While these processes are becoming better, they have a long way to go. But as mentioned, a lot of it has to do also with the materials being dealt with.
⛏The extraction and processing into usable materials has a massive footprint not only on the planet, but on the lives of those nearby.
We have probably heard the term “rare earth metals” before, but what exactly are they?
Rare earth metals aren’t necessarily rare in the exact quantity compared to other metals. They are rare in the sense that there are only a few places on earth where they are mineable. This makes for a very competitive, ecologically degrading, and unethical way to extract resources.
Mining for metals isn’t sustainable in the long term because they will eventually run out, and some will much sooner than others. But mining for metals is also not a sustainable model because of the degradation caused from mining itself. ⚙️
And unlike resources like coal, metals and rare earth metals are currently being mined in parts of the world with far more relaxed regulations than the US and Europe.
🧪Many of these materials require a lot of chemicals, acids, and sulphurs to process into a usable form. Sadly, the runoff from these processes are not managed well and are simply left to sit in drainage pools or dams. That is if, they aren’t released straight back into the natural environment first.
And to top it all off, much of the materials found in computers, phones, and other devices are very difficult to recycle properly. Both on a consumer level, and an industrial level. ♻️
Server storage and processing
As devices become more advanced and streamlined, more of the burden and work load is being put on servers both for storage and processing.👾
Every time we check an email, send a text, or post something to social media, this requires space and energy in a server somewhere. And this demand is only growing faster and faster...with no plans to slow down.
And don’t forget, those servers all require their own manufacturing and material extraction as well. Oh goodie.👎
🔥These giant computers need to be cooled and given constant energy. This is why renewables are so vital to the future along with innovative ways to keep servers cool. Tech companies are already looking for ways to cool off servers such as storing them underwater. Interesting.
Some things to consider for the future
If we wish to create a truly sustainable world, we are going to need to find alternative materials for our technology. That technology includes our devices like phones, tablets, and computers, but it also includes servers, cars, and dare I say...renewable energy equipment.
All of these things require harsh metal mining and manufacturing.
As the world is all of a sudden slung into 5G, new complications will also come of that. A major one being the added energy demand of 5G as compared to 4G.⚡️
Technology and the advancement of products can do a lot of good in the world. But if we don’t begin to consider the environment in everything we do, we may realize we need to do a lot more work later on as opposed to some consideration right now.
Written by Aaron Burr
A writer dedicated to working solely with companies on a mission to help the earth and people on it.