The Negative Impact of Technology on the Environment

July 8, 2020 • Zachary Amos


It’s difficult to imagine what life would be like without technology. From computers to cars to smartphones, tech has become an essential part of nearly every aspect of life. Have you ever stopped to consider the negative impact of technology on the environment, though?

We often view technology as a means to improve our lives, and in many cases, that’s mostly true. Even “green” tech may not be all that eco-friendly, though. So how exactly does technology negatively impact the environment?

1. Emissions

Perhaps the most significant negative side-effect of tech on the environment is the pollution it generates. Your laptop and phone may not directly release any emissions, but generating all the electricity they use does. Most energy comes from fossil fuels, so the more energy we use, the more emissions we cause.

Internet functions, like using cellular data on your phone, rely on data centers. These massive server networks use an equally huge amount of electricity. How much? Using your phone for just an hour a day can produce 1.4 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

The production and shipping of technology also leads to more emissions. Factories need energy and trucks need diesel. As the world buys new gadgets, it means more emissions from the manufacturing and logistics industries. Unfortunately, since the advent of electricity, technology and pollution have gone hand-in-hand. Pollution is a perfect example of new technology having a negative impact on sustainability.

2. Depletion of Resources

Creating our gadgets requires a lot of resources, which can harm the environment as well. The materials in technology all come from somewhere, so using too much can deplete the world’s natural resources. Perhaps the biggest negative environmental impact of tech in this regard is habitat destruction.

Even if a factory uses all renewable, sustainably-source materials, it still needs space. Making the space for a new facility often involves things like deforestation. Clearing all this land means that the animals in the area lose their homes, which can lead to endangerment.

A lot of gadgets contain minerals that companies need to mine from the earth. Removing too many of these can offset the area’s natural balance. Even if that’s not an issue, the mining process is typically one that involves a lot of pollutants. Just the creation of a device is one of the greatest examples of how technology can negatively impact the environment.

3. Hazardous Waste

Another negative impact technology has on the environment is in waste management. New electronics come out frequently, which leads to users disposing of their old ones to buy the newest editions. That’s all well and good if they recycle them properly, but that’s not the case a lot of the time.

When it comes to disposing old electronics, you may not know how to recycle them properly. It’s easier to just throw them in the garbage. This can be damaging, though, as many electronics contain toxic metals, which can be harmful if they leak into the environment.

A Way Forward

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news with technology and the environment. While there are definite negative impacts of tech on the environment, technology might also provide a way forward. One of the most promising examples of this is in renewable energy.

Thanks to advances in technology, renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels in several areas now. Over time, this tech will improve, making it even more affordable. With this monetary advantage, renewables could finally overtake fossil fuels, making energy consumption less of an environmental issue.

Many new technologies focus on offering more energy-efficient processes than their older counterparts. As the general public grows more concerned about the environment, more tech companies will pursue greener initiatives like this. 

Balancing Technology and Sustainability

Understanding the negative impact of technology on the environment is the first step in going green. Technology can be a helpful asset in sustainability, but only if we use it right. Knowing the environmental risks tech presents can help push towards a greener future.

Technology and the environment are more connected than you may realize. If you understand these connections, though, you can do your part in pursuing sustainability.

Our conversation on tech and sustainability continues in How Does the Internet of Things Affect the Environment?