Environmental science & technology | 16 Jan 2015
EG Ryen, CW Babbitt and E Williams
A new approach for quantifying the net environmental impact of a ‘community’ of interrelated products is demonstrated for consumer electronics owned by an average U.S. household over a 15-year period (1992-2007). This consumption-weighted life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology accounts for both product consumption (number of products per household) and impact (cumulative energy demand (MJ) per product), as analyzed using a hybrid LCA framework. While many individual devices have reduced impacts over time (on a ‘per product’ basis), increased usage, introduction of new technologies, and growing product consumption creates a net increase on a ‘per community’ basis. The net energy impact of the U.S. community of household electronics is significant, nearly 30% of the average annual fuel consumed by a passenger vehicle in 2007. The analysis points to a large contribution by legacy products (cathode ray tube televisions and desktop computers), due to historically high consumption rates, although impacts have begun to shift to smaller mobile devices. This method is also applied to evaluate prospective intervention strategies, indicating that environmental impact reduction can be achieved by strategies like lifespan extension or energy efficiency, but only when applied to all products owned, or by transforming consumption trends towards fewer, highly multi-functional products.
* Data courtesy of Altmetric.com