SDG 12: When buying a cellphone becomes an issue

SDG 12: When buying a cellphone becomes an issue

  • Posted: Jun 28, 2016 -
  • By: -

Understanding the impact that our lifestyles have on the environment is key to bringing about behavioural change.

Waste, pollution and excessive consumption are all hurting the earth and its inhabitants, not just through climate change, but also by fuelling violence, mass displacement of people, degradation of land and unsustainable water practices.

The twelfth Sustainable Development Goal that stablishes the United Nations calls for sustainable consumption and production patterns. According to the UN, this will require “doing more and better with less” and “engaging consumers through awareness-raising and education on sustainable consumption and lifestyles, providing consumers with adequate information through standards and labels and engaging in sustainable public procurement.”

Members of the Justice in Mining Network are involved in a campaign focused on this theme. Spanish NGO Alboan, Jesuit Missions UK and the Jesuit European Social Centre, with the support of the broader Justice in Mining Network, have campaigned around the issue of conflict minerals, lobbying for a change to European laws.

It would require manufacturers of items such as computers and smart phones to undertake proper due diligence of their supply chains. This due diligence would establish whether some of the payments for minerals used in production (in particular tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold), sourced from areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, are being siphoned off to fund armed groups and support violent conflict in Africa.

Many people do not realise what has gone in to producing their cellphone. They are ignorant both of the link between production and conflict, and of the impact of manufacture on the environment. The Conflict-free Technology campaign aims to change this.

Production of the raw materials for just one handset, for example, can generate 75 kg of waste materials. Tungsten is a key component of phones, used in the vibrating function. But there is only one gram of tungsten in every tonne of rock, meaning there is nearly a tonne of waste for every gram of tungsten eventually used in an electronic device.

Our consumption of technology also demands reflection. In Europe, around 40 per cent of existing mobiles are renewed every year, despite most batteries having a life of up to ten years. Not only are such consumption rates unsustainable, but significant technological waste is then dumped on poorer countries in contravention of the law and with devastating impacts on those societies and their environment.

The Conflict-free Technology campaign led by Alboan aims to enlighten consumers about what their mobile phone hides in the hope that this may influence consumer behavior. It also seeks to lobby politicians to ensure a mandatory due diligence requirement is brought into European law.

Campaigns such as this are crucial to ensuring the type of responsible consumption envisaged by SDG 12.

For more information about the Conflict-free technology campaign, including educational resources and information on how to help, see

About the author: Julie Edwars is CEO of Jesuit Social Services, an Australian social change organisation working to build a just society. Julie was appointed the leader of the Core Group of the Mineral Resources GIAN in 2012.