Sustainable digital devices
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Sustainable digital devices

Reducing IT impact by choosing reconditioned, repairable, and eco-labelled devices

  • Digital
  • Digital uses
  • IT equipment

While digital technologies are one of the solutions to global decarbonisation, their own environmental impact is growing every year. The impact of digital equipment can be significantly reduced by increasing the lifespan of devices, and buying repairable, reconditioned, and eco-labelled IT equipment.

Why is it important?

Digital technologies (devices and their use) represent 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions and their direct energy footprint has been growing at a rate of 9% every year from 2015 to 2020 (1). The number of smartphones in use between 2018 and 2023 is estimated to have increased by 7% every year, from 4,9 to 6,7 billion globally (2). A significant share of greenhouse gas emissions along the lifecycle of devices lies in the production phase of equipment: Across devices it represents 45% of emissions, whereas it can be much higher for certain types of equipment, e.g. more than 80% for a laptop. (1) 

Producing digital items consumes substantial amounts of energy and requires growing quantities of rare metals and other limited natural resources like cobalt (9,000 tons or 10% of the global annual extraction) or indium (330 tons or 50% of world production) (5). The current recycling rate of indium, gallium, tantalum and germanium is lower than 1% (1).  

Digital solutions are key to the decarbonisation of other sectors, notably business travel, but their own impact needs to be tackled in order to avoid exponential growth of emissions and other environmental impacts due to the manufacturing and use of IT equipment. 

What is the solution?

The most impactful solution is to limit the number and renewal of IT. Extending the lifespan of a laptop from 3 to 5 years can reduce its carbon impact by 37%. (1) If the purchase of a new device is necessary, prefer robustness to performance with less powerful and more energy-efficient devices repairable, recyclable, and eventually, reconditioned, with long-term software updates Refer to green labels to ensure sustainable choices, and favour suppliers with a take-back scheme to support recycling at manufacturer level. 

Point of attention

IT rebound effect

Digital equipment is more and more energy efficient, but new features and improved technology require more energy in absolute terms, cancelling out the reduction effect of improved energy efficiency (1) 

Key numbers

6,000 km

 with a petrol car: the annual greenhouse gas emissions from a standard desktop PC and screen, operated over 6 years (778 kg CO2e), is equivalent to 6000km driven with a petrol car. (3)


higher emissions when using a desktop PC with two screens instead of one. (3)


reduction of greenhouse gas emission by increasing lifespan of laptops from 3 to 5 years. (1)

400 times

in France, manufacturing a smartphone emits 400 times more greenhouse gas emissions than using it. (1)

69 000 tCO2e

saved in 2020 by users who bought reconditioned smartphones instead of new ones. (6)


less energy used for an Energy Star labelled computer, depending on its use. (9)

Key actions

  • #1 Buy only needed equipment and extend lifespan

    Before procuring a new IT device, consider reducing equipment and keep the old one longer: minimum 3,5 years for professional smartphones and 5 years for laptops (1). When purchasing new equipment, analyse the needed functions, performance and technological features.

  • #2 Prefer resistance and robustness to over-performance or extra-lightness

    Prefer robustness and longevity to unnecessary high performance. The production of smaller and lighter devices consumes more energy. Less high-tech equipment is often easier to repair and maintain and may resist better to an eventual harsh environment 

  • #3 Choose repairable and recyclable items

    Choose devices that are easily repairable and recyclable, thereby supporting a circular economy. Identify local repair facilities or train staff. See Repairability index database in tools section. 

  • #4 Choose reconditioned items

    Choose responsible suppliers, offering warranty and accepting unused or broken devices against a reduction. Specific labels for reconditioned equipment exist, like RecQ from Rcube (10). To ensure a positive impact, computers should be reconditioned after 5 years of use minimum (6). See our non-exhaustive list of specialists in reconditioned IT equipment. 

  • #5 Opt for energy-efficient devices

    Opting for smaller rather than larger screen is a simple action to reduce greenhouse gas emission of IT devices (5). Choosing energy-efficient certified computer can save 25 to 40% energy (7). See IT Ecolabel list below. 

  • #6 Favour certified equipment and Ecolabels

    Labels or certifications can help identifying equipment with a lower impact during the manufacturing and/or use phase of the device. It is important to understand which part of the lifecycle a label covers and if the verification process is robust. For example, the ENERGY STAR label focuses on energy use during the lifetime. See list of key labels below

  • #7 Select equipment with long-term software updates

    Software updates enable your smartphone to function safely and provides access to the latest features and improvements. Without regular updates, your phone might be at risk or dysfunction. To keep it longer, choose a brand and model with at least 3 years support policy. Check here or search for latest information.

  • #8 Favor suppliers that offer a take-back scheme

    Choose suppliers with take-back schemes promotes recycling and reduces waste. It also encourages responsible disposal of old equipment.

To consider

  • Potential co-benefits

    • Financial savings: Second hand devices are cheaper to purchase. Changing less often also costs less. Repairable and more energy-efficient equipment will cost less in the long term even if more expensive at purchase. 
    • Reducing other environmental impacts: by increasing the lifespan and by switching to greener devices energy, water, raw material resources consumption will be reduced. (5) 
    • Supporting the local recycling and repair economy.
    • More robust equipment better adapted to potentially harsh environments at mission-level.
  • Success conditions

    • Decision makers supporting a shift in practices.
    • Integration of sustainability in the procurement policy, planning and budget.
    • Acceptance of potentially higher initial investment costs.
    • Buy-in and support of technical support teams.
    • Training and buy-in of users of IT equipment.
  • Prerequisites

    • Inventory of existing equipment.
    • Mapping of needs depending on function and context.
  • Potential risks

    • Reconditioned devices from uncertified or un-warranted suppliers might be shorter-lived and contribute to the growing e-waste problem, notably where disposal facilities are limited. (1)

Key IT Ecolabels

The below list is based on an overview of key labels for IT equipment, from the German government label directory (8).

Success stories

WWF opted for circular computing

Circular Computing is a company that remanufactures HP, Dell, and Lenovo laptops to be ‘like new.’ To reach its sustainability goals, WWF UK purchased 560 remanufactured laptops. They conducted a trial with 50 devices and, satisfied with the results, proceeded to purchase an additional 510 devices, preventing 281 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions without compromising their performance. (4) 

Fairphone: 40% fair material

End of 2022, Fairphone published its environmental impact reports, sharing how they use 40% of fair materials from fair mining or recycling sources. 

Finland secondary school buys reconditioned laptops and saves 50,000 Euros

Finland’s Forssa secondary school saved 50,000 euros by purchasing reconditioned laptops instead of new ones. It will also avoid 21 tonnes of CO2e annually, corresponding to 114 000 km driven in an average car.  


  • Guideline for responsible IT purchases (in French)

    Published by the French government, this document provides guidance , tools and tutorials to help public and private purchasers to choose environmentally friendly digital devices.

    Learn more here
  • Checklist for circular and fair IT procurement

    Published by the UN One Planet Network, this compact guide provides checklists and guidance to reduce the impact of IT equipment procurement across 4 pillars: buy less, buy better, use better, use longer.

    Learn more here
  • Guide on Circular and Sustainable Public Procurement of IT equipment

    This detailed guide sets out the systems and process requirements for IT procurement in a way that supports the transition to circular and sustainable system solutions. It considers the need for policy and strategy, setting the conditions for and building circular and sustainable design into procurement processes.

    Learn more here
  • Repairability index database (in French)

    This platform allows consumers to access the repairability scores of various devices and compare them before making a purchase. The repairability index was put in place by the French government in 2021 to allow for a better-informed choice of devices.

    Learn more here
  • List of reconditioners and retailers of IT devices

    Non exhaustive list of companies or websites proposing reconditioned equipment, put together by the Climate Action Accelerator.

    Learn more here
  • Repair Guide

    Interactive exchange platform on knowledge and experience about repairing digital devices, with guides and tools.

    Learn more here
  • EPREL: European Product Registry for Energy Labelling

    Eprel is the European database displaying the energy labelling of all EU-registered products. Since 2019, suppliers must indicate information related to energy consumption of their goods.

    Learn more here
  • Global Ecolabelling Network

    Non-Profit Organisation and Global network of best ecolabel. It promotes sustainable products by identifying greenwashing and robust ecolabel.

    Learn more here
  • EPEAT Benefit calculator

    The EPEAT calculator is a tool to calculate the environmental gains when buying EPEAT Ecolabel IT devices.

    Learn more here

To go further

  • The Shift Project

    The Shift Project is a French think tank on energy transition and the decarbonation of the economy. The report “Lean ICT – Towards Digital Sobriety” provides facts and figures and avenues to reduce the impact of digital technologies.

    Learn more here
  • The environmental footprint of the digital world, Green IT

    This is a study focusing of on the environmental footprint of the digital world and its evolution during the 21st century. (see reference #5 in sources)

    Learn more here
  • Ademe: Environmental Impact evaluation method and prospective analysis (in French)

    Study about common evaluation methodology of digital world’s impact, with proposed goals to reduce it and user’s sensibiilsation.

    Learn more here


(1) Ferreboeuf H. Lean ICT – Toward digital sobriety [Internet]. The shift project. 2019 Mar. Link here

(2) Cisco. Cisco Annual Internet Report (2018–2023) White Paper [Internet]. Cisco. 2020. Link here

(3) University of Oxford, IT services. Environmental impact of IT: desktops, laptops and screens [Internet]. 2022. Link here

(4) Circular Computing. WWF – case study [Internet]. Circular ComputingTM. [cited 2024 Jan 22]. Link here

(5) Bordage F. The environmental footprint of the digital world Study Frédéric Bordage [Internet]. 2019 Sep [cited 2024 Jan 22]. Link here

(6) ADEME. Reconditioned devices yes but how [Internet]. La librairie ADEME. Link here

(7) Canada NR. Computers [Internet]. 2013. Link here

(8) Certificates for Green IT [Internet]. Digital.Global. 2022 [cited 2024 Jan 22]. Link here

(9) Energy Star. HELP PROTECT THE CLIMATE [Internet]. 2012. Link here

(10) Rcube. Label RecQ : reconditionnement de qualité – Nos missions pour le réemploi [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Mar 27]. Link here

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