Every little help: how to choose the least hostile laptop to the environment

Every little help: how to choose the least hostile laptop to the environment

Zoom in / Dell XPS 15 9510.

Andrew Cunningham

Earth Day is April 22, and its usual message – take care of our planet – has received greater urgency from the challenges highlighted in the latest IPCC report. This year, Ars is examining the technologies we normally cover, from automobiles to chip manufacturing, and finding out how we can increase their sustainability and minimize their impact on the climate.

Labeling a laptop as sustainable, eco-friendly or “green” is optimistic at best. The seemingly never-ending cycle of upgrades produces a lot of waste no matter how many green certifications a device gets. We have a long way to go.

But while all laptops contribute to waste, some do more or less than others. Many people simply need a laptop, so refraining from the whole thing isn’t an option. But there are some small wins to be won if you spend some time considering your options.

As we close April and Earth Day holidays draw to a close, let’s quickly review the basics for making sustainability a part of our laptop buying decisions.

Upgradeable and repairable

The most essential thing to consider when buying a laptop with these issues in mind is upgradeability and repairability. The more ways you can upgrade the device, the more time you can go without buying a new car and turning the old one into waste.

Also, the easier it is for you or a technician (third party or one who works for the company that made the laptop) to fix it, the better. This is because some laptops are designed in such a way that repairing or replacing one part requires the destruction of another part of the machine, doubling the waste.

There are a handful of YouTube channels and websites like iFixit that essentially review products on this basis only. The easier they are to repair without special tools or unnecessary waste, the higher the score they get.

When all else fails, you can go to Reddit or internet forums to ask existing owners what is and what isn’t possible.

Responsible material sourcing

It is an unfortunate reality that every laptop introduces Harfmul waste into the environment when it reaches the end of its life. But some are better at this than others, on two fronts.

First, some are made from more easily recyclable materials. The components could be made from materials that already come from recycling sources and, in turn, can be recycled instead of ending up in a landfill when you discard your laptop.

Secondly, consider where the materials come from. If they come from suppliers with bad environmental practices, you have a whole host of additional concerns.

Laptop manufacturers are usually quick to proudly and loudly advertise their use of recyclable materials or their reliance on suppliers who have solid practices. You’ll likely see some language on this when you visit the product page for a laptop.

And yet, other sources on the Internet can verify some of these claims. There are also some certification labels that give you a shortcut to get going, such as the TCO certification. You can also consult the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) for the device you are looking to buy.

Long-term support

Laptop manufacturers vary widely in the amount of long-term support they offer customers. We recommend that you avoid companies that do not have a good track record of providing customer, software, online, or hardware support for their products for many years.

The Fairphone 4 is known for its long-term support.
Zoom in / The Fairphone 4 is known for its long-term support.

Fairphone

Staying away from those who simply ship a product and essentially forget about it increases the chances that you’ll be able to keep that device longer by reducing the frequency with which you create waste. Plus, it’s also good for your bottom line and user experience.

Most companies offer details about their product support plans on their websites. Compare and contrast to make sure you get a device that will be supported for a while. Of course, it’s probably best to avoid a brand if you can’t find those details.

Additionally, product reviews on tech websites sometimes mention this as well, including many of the reviews we post on Ars Technica for certain product categories.

Sustainability reports

Some OEMs publish monthly, quarterly, or annual sustainability reports, which are often available somewhere on their websites if you are really looking for them.

These reports are sometimes subject to external review and may in fact accurately reflect the company’s progress or lack thereof, in other words, they are not necessarily just spins. But go to your favorite search engine to see what reactions reporters and watchdogs may have had to the published report to be sure.

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