Smartphone sustainability assessment using multi-criteria analysis and consumer survey

University essay from KTH/Hållbar utveckling, miljövetenskap och teknik

Abstract: Sustainability is a fairly new emerging business concept for manufacturing industry and this thesis will focus on smartphone manufacturing industry. In 2015 there were 1.86 billion smartphone users and it is estimated to increase to 2.87 billion in 2020. Currently the average lifetime of a smartphone is 21 months and According to Consumer Technology Association the technical life expectancy of a smartphone is 4.7 years. The European Commission approximated that from 17–20 kg of electronic waste is produced per person per year and that smartphones are contributors for increase of electronic waste. Also the smartphone manufacturing process has an impact on the people who are involved with manufacturing and resource extraction process.  Related social problems include conflict minerals, issues in manufacturing campuses, health problems and excessive worktimes. There has been suspicion that large manufacturing companies use labour market in areas that have a high risk of poverty or lack of national authority that can protect labour rights. To investigate these emerging issues that has an impact on smartphone manufacturing sustainability, a sustainability ranking criteria for individual smartphones devices and their manufactures was developed. Furthermore, the aim of the research is to develop a ranking system using life cycle perspective and to evaluate sustainability of a smartphones upcycling, recycling, and social aspects. This aim will be accomplished by the following objectives: Develop evaluation system for smartphones using Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA) to evaluate sustainability; Comparing sustainability of smartphones Fairphone 2, iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5, using developed Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA); Conducting general sustainability- focused survey about consumer demand for sustainable and ethical electronics. The method used in this research to assess smartphone sustainability was Multi-Criteria Analysis(MCA), based on eco-design trends and three pillars of sustainability, – economic, environmental and social. Eco-design will be supported using EcoDesing Roadmap by Conrad Luttropp and Göran Brohammer. In parallel with MCA method a survey was developed to briefly assess consumer’s behaviour in terms of choosing sustainable electronics. For better understanding about the consumer value on purchase decision, a survey was made considering the technical and sustainable aspects. The results of this survey will be used as indicator. Furthermore, results from this research (Table 1 MCA evaluation results) revealed that majority of chosen smartphones where lacking sustainable products aspects. This MCA ranking system also confirm that for sustainable designed smartphone it is equally important to have well established environmental management system for overall manufacturing process and afterlife of smartphone. Continuing, after conducting deeper analysis with combined results from MCA, survey revealed that general public are willing to pay more for sustainable products, but consumers lack information about the overall manufacturers` sustainability, as well Indicating that communication between manufacturers and consumers are very weak or even one way. The conclusion of the study about Smartphone sustainability assessment using multi-criteria analysis and the consumer survey has provided better understanding about the lack of transparency and complex logistics manufacturing process of smartphone. The lack of qualitative data and transparency from the manufactures side is a major issue that creates lot of uncertainties about smartphone manufacturing process and social issues for workforce that is involved in this manufacturing process.

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