Extending the lifespan of smartphones and other electronics by just one year would slash annual carbon emissions in Europe by the equivalent of taking 2 million cars off the road, a new study reveals.

Experts have assessed the climate benefits of making Europe’s smartphones, notebooks, washing machines and vacuum cleaners more durable in support of the circular economy.

The study found that extending the lifetime of the EU’s stock of these products by five years would save almost 10 million tonnes of emissions annually by 2030, equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the roads for a year.

A one-year extension would result in 4 million tonnes of emissions savings annually.

Researchers at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) say vast amounts of energy and resources are involved in producing and distributing new products as well as disposing of old ones.

The climate impact of the so-called non-use phases is often overlooked in product policy, with legislation focused on reducing the energy needed to power goods rather than on their production.

If embedded emissions are included, the EU hasn’t achieved any emissions reductions since 1990, the EEB says.

For smartphones in Europe alone, their lifecycle is responsible for 14 million tonnes of emissions each year. Increasing their lifetime by just one year would save more than 2 million tonnes of emissions.

The average lifespan of a smartphone in Europe is three years, with annual sales of almost 211 million units. Laptops last about six years, while washing machines and vacuum cleaners 11.4 and 6.5 respectively.

The report was published today by the EEB on behalf of the Coolproducts and Right to Repair campaigns.

The Right to Repair movement aims to counter planned obsolescence, the practice whereby products are poorly designed and too difficult to repair, so they are prematurely replaced.

Researchers say the proportion of defective devices being replaced by consumers grew from 3.5% in 2004 to 8.3% in 2012.

Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, policy officer for the circular economy at the EEB, said: “This study is further proof that Europe can’t meet its climate obligations without addressing our production and consumption patterns. The climate impact of our disposable smartphone culture is far too high. We can't afford to keep replacing them every few years. We need products that last longer and can be repaired if they break.

“As public support for longer lasting products and climate action grows, we have an opportunity to radically rethink the way our products are designed and produced.”

Coolproducts is a coalition of NGOs led by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and the European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation (ECOS), which campaigns for better product policy for EU citizens and the environment.

The EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations with more than 140 members in 30 countries. ECOS is the only European NGO focusing on environmental standards.

The research comes as millions of people around the world hold protests demanding action to reduce pollution in a bid to combat climate change, amid fears global warming will lead to environmental collapse, global flooding and food shortages.

At the International Asset Finance Network conference last year, industry experts argued that the linear economy is dying, ending the 'take, make, waste' cycle, as the rise of the sharing economy will see much more intensive use of assets by multiple clients, enabled through innovations in software.

Carmen Ene, chief executive officer of 3 Step IT, which provides sustainable IT lifecycle management, said: “It is an enormous opportunity for the leasing industry to portray itself as the enabler of the circular economy, as the ones that make all these things possible on an underlying financing contract.”

IT services and software company Tieto recently launched a whitepaper to look at the impact of the circular economy on asset finance.

Per Dahlqvist, head of business development and analytics products, credit solutions and services at Tieto, said: “The asset finance industry can play a vital role in these new ways of doing business, through funding and by supporting the processes that enable change.”

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