Development of new ecological footprint techniques applicable to consumer electronics
In order to extend ecological footprint analysis (EFA) to electronic products, new methods had to be developed which associate the world average bioproductive space per capita and year - the fair Earth share - with an individual product. The problem analysed in this thesis is the need for an environmental assessment tool for electronic products, which uses natural capital accounting. This need arose because so far, electronic products were mainly assessed using life cycle analysis with a focus on toxicity. Since the ecological footprint (EF) is a sustainability indicator, the sustainability discussion and in particular its relevance and implications with regard to the EF is reviewed. The electronic products assessed in this thesis are a personal computer (PC) in an exploratory study, and three mobile phones (two main case studies and one updated case study). To establish the land areas used by the mined materials used in electronic products, a database was developed based on site specific data found in the literature, and on approximations from the density of materials and their overburden. A life cycle energy approach was used to determine the burdens from producing and using a mobile phone. In order to estimate energy requirements for materials for which no data was available, the relationship between abundance and rucksack / overburden values was used in a regression analysis. Direct land use data and results from the energy analysis were used as an inventory for the subsequent EFA. An EF time series was applied to represent a more accurate picture of PC and phone use. This was also necessary since the EF reflects the instantaneous rate (a snapshot) of resource consumption. Key results are that the EF of electronic products are much larger than their actual size and that different electronic products have different EF. Our methodology proved sensitive enough to reveal differences even in small electronic products, given the high benchmark of a fair Earth share, and useful in monitoring space-efficient technology.