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The Transition from Desktop Computers to Tablets: A Model for Increasing Resource Efficiency?

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Hischier, Roland, and Patrick A. Wäger. 2015. “The Transition from Desktop Computers to Tablets: A Model for Increasing Resource Efficiency?” In ICT Innovations for Sustainability, edited by Lorenz M. Hilty and Bernard Aebischer, 310:243–56. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Sales statistics of computing devices show that users are not replacing units one by one, but rather adding additional devices to their hardware portfolios. This chapter describes the outcomes of a first attempt to quantify the ecological implications of changes in the use of ICT hardware for computing services by using LCA and applying three different perspectives ranging from individual devices to global sales of desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. In particular, it addresses the question of which effect actually predominates: the increase in efficiency induced by the emergence of new technologies or the growing energy consumption due to an increased number of devices combined with a higher utilization rate by individual users. The comparison shows a clear reduction of the environmental impact per hour of active use; and the smaller the device, the smaller the impact due to the active use of the device. However, when the evolution in the use of these kinds of devices is taken into account as well, the picture changes. The calculations show that the higher in-use efficiency of individual devices is fully compensated by the efforts for the production of the increasing number of devices in use, without even considering increased use time. If increased use intensity is assumed as well, a clear increase of the overall impact per day can be observed.

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