If my employer pays me £80 per day, and I can estimate the CO2 footprint of doing my job, compared not working, is around 15Kg CO2e. So my earnings have a footprint equivalent to 180g CO2e per £. (This might be from my daily commute, chunky work computer, office AC and whatever it is that my company actually does)

I wish to buy a new phone and can easily choose the one with the lowest CO2 footprint in its class without looking at the price.

But should I look at the price of the phone and consider my CO2 emissions in earning the money to pay for it. A new iPhone X is worth ten days of my labour or 150Kg of CO2e, which is double the manufacturing footprint. Whilst an iPhone 6 is only two day's labour 30Kg CO2e, a third the phone's manufacturing footprint.

Sure, I could go without a new phone and work two or ten days less than necessary. But if I must consume consumer goods, should my labour count?

2 Answers 2


If I understood you correctly you are saying that if you buy cheaper stuff, then you can start working less and thus reduce your carbon footprint? But will you really work less if you buy a cheaper phone? And if that's the case for you, do you think this also holds for the average Joe?

I don't believe that if we can convince people to buy cheaper goods, they will start working less. I think most people decide how much they work based on things like

  • can they pay for their necessities (rent, electricity, food, clothing),
  • time required to take care for their children,
  • how important they think money is (to buy status symbols),
  • how much they value free time.

IMHO people do not reduce their working hours just because they do not spend all their money every month. Instead they will probably put the extra money in a savings account, or start buying more stuff.

If you really have to buy something, then consider the product that has the lowest carbon footprint. This could be a cheaper item (with less parts or options), but not necessarily. For example a low-energy fridge is usually a bit more expensive.

If working increases your carbon footprint compared to not working, then consider actions you can take to reduce that footprint; take public transport to work or talk to your boss about measures he can take to reduce energy consumption.

  • 1
    Its your example of a low energy expensive fridge, but perhaps a better example would be a brand new electric car. If I owned one then my daily CO2 footprint for commuting to work would be lower, but I'd have to work a lot more to afford on, compared to buying a cheap secondhand petrol car. May 22, 2019 at 8:22

Yes, it should. THelper's answer suggest that it wouldn't for the average Joe, but in this case we're not really discussing them, but you, someone who is taking a conscious effort to reduce their impact.

I agree with your analogy of the new electric car, but I would also consider not just how much time you work, but also what you do and where - for example, it may be that by choosing to buy the cheaper option, and therefore reducing your outgoings, you can afford to take a lower-paying job that is walking distance from your home - which of course reduces your outgoings even further as you have no commuting costs, as well as the main goal of reducing your environmental impact.

It's all about balancing your priorities - certainly from my own point of view, I find that working locally ticks a lot of boxes compared with commuting to London - I effectively work fewer hours (as I'm not spending three+ hours a day commuting), I don't spend on commuting costs (both financial and environmental), and it's a lot less stressful (and healthier) than being crammed on an overcrowded train or traffic jam. The trade-off is that I earn less.

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