What is the carbon footprint of a laptop?

Carbon footprint is a topic that has rightly come to the forefront of public consciousness in recent years. Whether it is how much is emitted to produce the food at your table or perhaps the car in your driveway, it’s something that a lot of people are now considering when making their next purchase. For a long time it wasn’t something someone would ask about a laptop, but in today’s world it can be essential information in the decision making process. We hope this article provides a bit more information about the carbon footprint of a laptop, and the options open to you should you wish to mitigate your impact on the environment.

What is it and how is it calculated?

The carbon footprint is the amount of carbon emissions produced by something. In terms of laptops, this includes emissions produced during production, transportation and the actual use of the device, which ranges from about four to five years, depending on the manufacturer. Manufacturing produces the most emissions, around 80% with transportation also having a large impact.

What do the numbers mean?

Most manufacturers provide detailed reports on their laptops that you can find online. These reports can go into specific details about the production process of each laptop and how they calculate the carbon emissions. Dell, Lenovo and HP all used the MIT developed PAIA method to calculate their footprints. Each report contains an ‘estimated impact’ which suggests the total emissions of a product's lifetime. The actual amounts can vary based on a selection of factors such as how much the product is actually used. The main values we are going to be looking at are the mean, the average amount of CO2 emissions, and the standard deviation.

What is standard deviation?

The standard deviation measures the dispersion of the results. The higher the deviation, the further away the results will be from the average. A higher standard deviation means the process is less efficient as the actual amount of CO2 emissions may be significantly more or less than the estimate. HP, Dell and Lenovo all include this information while Apple doesn’t.

So how much carbon does a laptop produce?

Well, it’s hard to answer that question exactly. Many factors determine the amount of emissions produced. We focused on Dell, HP, Lenovo and Apple products and we found that each company provides reports with specific data on the entire life cycle of each product and an estimation of the emissions produced. Of all the devices, we checked the average emissions is around 338.6Kg CO2. That being said, the methods each company uses to determine their statistics varies so it’s harder to come up with an accurate figure. For example most of Lenovo’s statistics are based on a five year life cycle, resulting in their results being higher than the others.

For comparison a single Big Mac burger, using calculations based on publicly available information & using a carbon calculator, has a carbon footprint of around 2.35Kg. The life cycle of Apple’s MacBook Air with M1 chip produces 198Kg of CO2 over it’s 3-4 years. That's about 68 burgers. Comparatively, the emissions from laptops seem negligible considering their unlimited uses.

Carbon ofsetting

Planting trees has become a very popular scheme in recent years, the idea being that the emissions produced will be offset by the trees. A tree can absorb anywhere between 10 and 40kg of CO2 each year. So to offset the average emissions produced by a P17, between 16.2 and 64.8 trees would need to be planted.

How does using a laptop change its emissions?

Once the device is in the consumers hands, the main impact of its carbon footprint is produced by electricity. Having more powerful components, brighter screens and bigger batteries are just some of the things that can increase energy consumption. General everyday use isn’t going to have a giant impact, but more intensive processes such as video editing or modelling can have a larger impact.

How can we help to reduce the footprint?

Buying Refurbished

We can all help to reduce the carbon footprints of the devices we use. Buying refurbished is a great way of extending the life of existing products. The production stage of a laptop's life cycle produces the most emissions, buying used or refurbished bypasses this step and helps to justify the initial emission just that little bit more.

Reduce energy consumption

How you use your laptop can have a small impact as well. Things like setting it to battery saver mode, reducing the screen brightness and utilising sleep functions help reduce the amount of emissions produced from electricity you use. Turning off your devices when not in use rather than using sleep. The best part is that all these methods save you money, increase the life of your devices and help reduce your carbon footprint.


Recycle unwanted laptops and other electronics, by donating (not all charity shops will take electronics but it doesn’t hurt to check), selling to second hand sellers or disposing of correctly. Check your local council website for local recycling options. if you have a larger amount, such as a small business looking to replace old equipment, there are several UK charities who collect and distribute used laptops to those in need.


Inescapably, laptops produce emissions but are an essential part of today’s home and work life. It is possible to lower your emissions by purchasing carefully. Buying used or refurbished products is the easiest and most cost effective way of reducing your own carbon footprint whilst still retaining the premium quality that you should expect from your device.