Raw Materials for Digital Transformation

Many old and broken cell phones

Smartphones, laptops and the like contain valuable raw materials...

Digitalization is increasingly shaping all areas of life and the economy. On the one hand, it offers great potential for saving resources - for example through the use of intelligent data collection and linking for resource-efficient production processes in companies. On the other hand, the production and operation of smartphones and laptops, for example, requires enormous amounts of raw materials and energy. Added to this are digital infrastructures such as servers, data centers and data cables. Although these are less visible in everyday life, they are indispensable for access to the internet. Current trends such as Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence will further increase the consumption of raw materials for digitalization. It is therefore an important driver of growing demand for raw materials such as copper, nickel and tantalum, the mining of which has serious consequences for people in mining areas and contributes to environmental destruction.

... but end up in the trash far too quickly

The use of electronic devices is also not sustainable. Many devices end up in the bin far too quickly. For example, smartphones in Germany are only used for an average of 18 months. One reason: spare parts are often not available and repairs are too expensive. However, using products for longer offers great potential not just in terms of protecting resources: extending the lifespan of smartphones, notebooks and other electronic products by five years would save almost 10 million tons of emissions (CO2 equivalents) in the EU every year by 2030. Further potential can also be exploited in recycling. Only just under 40% of electronic waste in Germany is recycled at all. This means that valuable raw materials are irretrievably lost.

For a sustainable digital transformation

Our work helps to draw attention to human rights violations and environmental destruction conncected with raw material extraction for digitalization. In addition to binding and effective requirements for companies to implement due diligence obligations, sustainable digitalization also requires a strengthening of the circular economy. Instead of launching a new model on the market every year, manufacturers should design their products from the outset in such a way that they are easy to repair, can be used for as long as possible and can be recycled. We advocate that politicians create the right framework conditions - for example through a right to repair and ambitious eco-design specifications.