Embracing the circular economy

Every year as Christmas is approaching the Swedish Trade Federation nominates the Christmas gift of the year. Going back in time these have included the baking machine (1988), the internet connection (1996) and the GPS receiver (2007). This year’s suggested gift is different.

Girls holding mobile devices

Master Researcher focused on the sustainability impacts of ICT

Master Researcher focused on the sustainability impacts of ICT

Category & Hashtags

For the first time the Circular Economy made it to the top of the list – the reused garment is anticipated to be this year´s most popular gift.

Another sign of the Circular Economy gaining ground in society was during this year´s Nobel festivities where both the Minister of Culture and Democracy and the Crown Princess opted for reused dresses.

From the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap where we participated with Future EarthSITRA, World Wildlife Foundation (WWF)Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC), Mission 2020 and others we know that the transition, from linear to circular, is one of the most important ways for the industry sector to halve emissions by 2030.

Halving global emissions within that timeframe is in line with the global Carbon Law. Carbon Law, which was introduced by Science Mag last year and reflects the decarbonization rate demanded by science and is in line with IPCC´s 1,5 degrees report

Generally, I believe that awareness of the relationship between global warming and material usage is increasing.

Our recent peer-reviewed study on the ICT sector´s overall materials footprint indicates that it represent about 0,5% of the global annual usage of relevant materials when also including the materials used by the entertainment and media (E&M) sector. For several rare metals (indium, gallium and germanium), however, the usage of these sectors represents as much as 80-90% of the overall usage. 

We also estimated that their use of materials represents about 0.9% of the carbon footprint for the relevant materials, and about 0.1% of the total global carbon footprint, while the sectors material resource depletion potential is estimated to be between 13% and 48% of overall global depletion for the selected materials, using standard methods with different definitions of depletion. Finally, the toxicity of the selected materials, plus cement production, ICT and E&M are estimated to represent about 3.3%, based on a commonly adopted method (ReCiPe). 

Within the sector, we know from our carbon footprint studies at Ericsson Researchthat for networks, embodied emissions and materials represent just a small fraction of the overall greenhouse gas emissions. Energy performance is what matters most. For devices with short lifespans, such as the smartphone, the embodied emissions from production is similar in size as the usage. 

With that in mind, recycling a smartphone, tablet or laptop to give it a second life, thereby avoiding the production of a new one, makes a lot of sense.

Working with environmental aspects of ICT, the choice was simple when my family this year needed both a new laptop and a new PC. Reused products made the best sense and as a bonus they also came with a lower cost. 

After investigating in the market, we chose two different firms which both sold reused ICT equipment. Finding the right product was simple as the webpages were designed to give specific information about the individual product to be purchased, and filters could be used to define the product condition that we requested. 

In both cases the products were delivered promptly and as we had opted for high-quality items, it was very hard to tell them apart from new products. Unfortunately, after some months of use, the back camera of the phone suddenly stopped working, a problem that a quick scan showed was quite common for this smartphone model and which could just as well has happened with a new unit. As the guarantee period had not ended we returned the smartphone for repair/replacement and got it back within just a few days.

So, with this experience in mind, I´m happy that previous owner resisted the urge to store their old smartphone in a drawer just in case it could be used by someone else within the family, and instead sent it to the reuse company. 

For materials to circulate it is important to re-circle old products for reuse and to recycle materials – but with linear business models incentives are often too weak. 

For this reason, I was really happy when Ericsson recently switched to a circular model for the company smartphones and now offers them as a service to employees, with a promise to exchange them and put them to use when later replaced.

Enough about this, the Christmas is approaching. Over the coming days many people, at least last-minutes like myself, will be running around, or use their smartphones, to find Christmas gifts for families and friends. When doing so think about the climate and go circular – it saves the environment and brings good bang for the buck. And if you have been really nice, Santa might even bring you a reused smartphone 😉. 

But remember the best thing about Christmas – to spend time with your dear ones and get some time for reflection - is already circular and mostly also low-carbon. And for New Year our most important New Year´s resolution would be to cut down on carbon rather than or calories!

The Ericsson Blog

Like what you’re reading? Please sign up for email updates on your favorite topics.

Subscribe now

At the Ericsson Blog, we provide insight to make complex ideas on technology, innovation and business simple.