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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Integrative approaches to environmental life cycle assessment of consumer electronics and connected media Teehan, Paul

Abstract

The environmental impacts of information and communication technologies and consumer electronics are challenging to evaluate. Organizations and individuals wishing to reduce the impacts attributable to their usage of these products and systems rely on a limited technical knowledge base that struggles to stay current. Using a life cycle assessment approach which expresses environmental impacts quantitatively in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy demand, this dissertation significantly expands our understanding of the impacts of desktop computers, electronics products in general, and connected media services accessed in the home, in order to support environmentally-conscious decision-making and policy regarding these products and systems. The first of three studies, a meta-analysis of prior life cycle assessments of desktop PCs, resolves an important ambiguity in this literature and demonstrates that greenhouse gas emissions due to operational energy consumption usually exceed those due to device manufacturing. The second study calculates embodied greenhouse gas emissions of eleven electronics products through a teardown analysis, and finds a linear relationship between mass and embodied emissions, thus demonstrating that lightweight, compact products offer environmental benefits relative to larger products. A comparison to studies of older products also reveals that newer products are more materially efficient, largely due to reduction in integrated circuit content per product. Finally, the third study calculates aggregate US consumer greenhouse gas emissions due to broadcast television, video on demand, online video, other online uses, and offline uses when consumed using televisions, personal computers, tablets, and smartphones, including emissions due to devices in the home, networks, and datacenters. The study concludes that emissions due to video end-uses account for 75% of total consumer ICT emissions. About 71% of consumer ICT emissions arise due to devices in the home, especially TVs and desktop PCs, with the remainder due to networks and datacenters. Mobile platforms using Wi-Fi connections are the least impactful mode of consuming connected media content. Collectively, the dissertation argues for a more integrated approach towards impact estimation, in order to surmount issues regarding variation of modeling assumptions across existing studies, longevity of published work, and coverage of emerging products and services.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada

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