Laptops

In this ethical shopping guide, we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental records of 18 laptop brands

We also look at human rights abuses in cobalt mines, the use of toxic chemicals, shine a spotlight on Huawei and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying a laptop:

  • Is it second-hand or refurbished? Because of the significant carbon footprint of making a computer, its life should ideally be extended for as long as possible. If you can’t repair an old machine you can extend the life of another by buying second-hand or refurbished. See our guide to buying second-hand tech for more advice. 

  • Is it repairable and upgradeable? Laptops are typically harder to repair or upgrade than desktop PCs. Look for a user-replaceable battery as an absolute minimum, and ideally replaceable storage drive and RAM as well. Ifixit has ranked popular laptop models according to repairability. When it comes to durability, lower prices often mean poorer build quality, so forking out for a ‘business class’ laptop can save money in the long run and help the planet.

  • Is it TCO certified? The TCO-Certified label ensures that the model has reduced environmental and social impact throughout its lifecycle, from manufacture to disposal. Use the online product finder to find out if a laptop model has the TCO-Certified label.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying a laptop:

  • Does the brand score badly for its conflict minerals policy? Conflict minerals are associated with violence and serious human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  • Does the brand score badly for its toxics policy? All electronics contain potentially dangerous toxic chemicals. We expect companies to have a policy that commits to phasing out the worst chemicals.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

We seem to be obsessed with the advancement of technology, but are we working towards a sustainable relationship with it, or are we in a society of PC gone mad?

In the following guides, we rank the biggest brands in the laptop industry according to their ethical policies and performance. We also look at some lesser-known companies that are offering more sustainable alternatives.

Laptops and conflict minerals

Conflict Minerals Rating
Best Middle Worst
ASUS, Acer, Apple, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google) Toshiba Huawei, Micropro (iameco), MSI, VeryPC, Samsung
Image: miners in the democratic republic of congo in the mine
Mining for cobalt in Kolwezi, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

To build the components that make up a computing device requires a plethora of raw materials.

Among these are a number of metal elements that are commonly sourced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the mining trade has, for many years, been used to fund brutal conflicts, notably in the Eastern regions of the country, as well as in neighbouring states.

To find out more information about this, check out our feature on technology and conflict minerals.

Ethical Consumer expected all laptopPC and smartphone manufacturers to have an adequate policy addressing conflict minerals regardless of whether they were bound to do so by law.

To get our best rating, these companies were required to list specific examples of how they had carried out the five steps mentioned in our feature, rather than simply referring to them. 

Toxic Chemicals

Toxic chemicals rating
Best Middle Worst
Micropro (iameco), Apple, Huawei Acer, Lenovo, HP, Dell, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Samsung VeryPC, ASUS, Fujitsu, MSI, Toshiba

Among the dozens of elements and compounds used in the production of electronic devices are numerous substances known to be toxic to human health and the natural environment.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are two substances often used in the plastic parts of electronic devices. Both substances are known to produce harmful by-products, such as highly toxic and carcinogenic dioxins, which can be released at various stages of a product’s lifecycle.

The danger becomes acute after the disposal of a device, when plastics are often burned in incinerators or by workers in informal recycling operations, releasing dioxins directly into the air.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals often used as a softener in PVC. Over time, they leak out of plastic materials into the surrounding environment and have been linked to a wide range of health problems affecting the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive systems.

In the European Union, the RoHS Directive restricts the use of toxic substances in electronics, including a number of BFRs and, as of 2019, four phthalates. However, the restrictions do not extend to all chemicals in these groups.

Ethical Consumer rates electronics companies on their level of commitment to completely phasing out PVC, BFRs and phthalates. The three PC brands that received our best rating for the use of toxic chemicals – iameco, Apple and Huawei – had committed to removing all PVC and BFRs from their entire product range. The companies that received our worst rating had either committed to reducing rather than eliminating these substances or had no public policy.

Are there any regulations on toxic chemicals?

TCO Certified is a sustainability label for IT products, which takes into account a broad range of social and environmental factors in the lifecycle of a product.

For a product to be awarded the TCO-Certified label, it must meet numerous criteria relating to both the design and manufacture including criteria on worker’s rights, conflict minerals, hazardous chemicals, user health and safety, durability, and recyclability.

Of the companies featured in these guides, Lenovo, HP, Dell and Fujitsu offered TCO-Certified PC models (including laptops, hybrids and desktop PCs).

On our score table, TCO-Certified products are awarded a Product Sustainability positive mark. To find out if a specific model has the label, we recommend using the Product Finder on the TCO Certified website.

Workers at an electroinic factory in China
Workers at a Foxconn electronics factory in China.

Workers rights and laptops

Supply Chain Management Rating
Best Middle Worst
N/A Apple, Huawei, Lenovo & Fujitsu, Toshiba, HP, Dell, Microsoft Google, Samsung, VeryPC, ASUS, Acer, MSI, Micropro (iameco)

Inadequate working conditions are a persistent issue in the IT supply chain. The vast majority of manufacturing takes place in countries with fewer protections for workers. 

Many products are assembled in factories in China, where there is a huge and highly-skilled workforce costing relatively little. Reduced costs allow companies to meet growing global demand for affordable high-tech products, but all too often it is the workers who pay the true cost.

A common practice in Chinese assembly factories is the use of student ‘interns’, many as young as 16, as a source of cheap and flexible labour during busy periods. Schools, universities and colleges are given contracts and teachers are paid to accompany students to the factories; they are sometimes asked to encourage uncooperative students into accepting overtime. Find out more about this in our guide to workers' rights and technology.

The carbon cost of laptops

Carbon Emissions Reporting
No emissions reporting Scopes 1 and 2 Scopes 1, 2 and 3 (best reporting)
VeryPC, Micropro (iameco) MSI, ASUS, Huawei* Lenovo (including Fujitsu), Dell, HP, Apple, Acer, Microsoft, Toshiba, Google (Alphabet), Samsung

The contribution of IT and the electronics sector to climate change is a growing problem, with studies suggesting that the production and use of electronic devices will account for 14% of total greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, which equates to one half of today’s global transport sector.

Like the gadgets themselves, the issue is highly complex, with emissions occurring throughout the lifecycle of a product: resource extraction, multiple stages of manufacture, transportation, use and disposal all contribute significantly to the climate impact of a device.

The production stage is often the most significant – for smartphones, this has been estimated to account for 80% of emissions. The complexity of the product means it requires large amounts of energy to manufacture, although the quantities are difficult to measure as a myriad of materials and components need to be processed and assembled by different companies along a huge supply chain

Broadening the scope of reporting

The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol defines a set of standards to assist companies with measuring and tracking their climate impact in real terms by separating emissions sources into three categories known as Scopes.

Scope 1 covers direct emissions produced by a company’s own facilities, while scope 2 accounts for the emissions caused by electricity use of the company.*Reported limited data defined as Scope 3 such as employee travel but did not include supply chain or product-use emissions.

Scope 3 takes into account “all other indirect emissions”, including those produced in the supply chain, product use and disposal as well as other activities such as business travel.

Although much more difficult to measure, Scope 3 emissions generally account for the largest share of a company’s carbon footprint. This is particularly true for electronics manufacturers, where so much energy use occurs outside of each company’s direct control.

Despite this, we found that not all companies we assessed measured and reported on scope 3 emissions. The level of reporting by each company is shown in the table above.

Short lifetimes are a driver of climate change

Perhaps the most effective way to limit the climate impact of your gadgets is by extending their life. A 2019 EU report compared the total emissions of ‘use’ and ‘non-use’ phases of their lifecycles. For notebooks, ‘non-use phases’ account for between 40% and 64% of the total Global Warming Potential (GWP), while the same figure for smartphones was between 51% and 92%.

As electricity supplies in some countries move gradually towards renewables, this proportion becomes even greater, particularly as the vast majority of electronics manufacturing takes place in China and other East Asian countries, where coal and other fossil fuels account for the majority of electricity supply.

This means that improvements in energy-efficient design rarely compensate for the impact of production when a device is replaced with a new one, with calculations suggesting that a smartphone may be used for between 25 and 232 years before it becomes environmentally beneficial to replace!

For consumers, this is yet another good reason to repair devices wherever possible, or else to buy second-hand or refurbished technology. Other reasons for this include the issue of e-waste.

Tax avoidance

Tax Avoidance Rating
Best Middle Worst
VeryPC, Micropro (iameco) N/A ASUS, MSi, Toshiba, Acer, Lenovo, HP, Dell, Microsoft, Apple, Huawei, Google, Samsung

Ethical Consumer rated companies on the likely use of tax avoidance strategies based on whether they listed subsidiaries in countries or regions on our list of known tax havens.

Companies with two or more subsidiaries considered to be high-risk within these areas were given our worst rating, unless they published country-bycountry financial information, a policy statement or narrative explanation that could explain a different purpose for these subsidiaries.

Among the PC brands rated in this guide, all of the big multinational companies received our worst rating. Only the small alternative manufacturers VeryPC and iameco avoided losing marks.

Laptop, tablet or hybrid?

A laptop’s larger screen, full-sized keyboard and large hard drive make many tasks easier, and they’re great for browsing the web.

A tablet is a gadget that’s slim and lightweight, and easy to use.

A laptop-tablet hybrid can offer the best of both worlds. With touch-screens that rotate and flip and keyboards that detach or can be hidden away, they can be as powerful or portable as you want.

Operating systems

When choosing a brand of tablet or laptop you may also want to bear in mind the operating system that runs it. The operating systems are owned by three companies which all feature in this report – Apple, Google and Microsoft.

    Apple iOS – all Apple products
    Google Android – most non-Apple tablets.
    Google Chrome – Chromebook laptops.
    Microsoft Windows – most laptops and hybrids

You can also use an open source operating system such as Linux. Beginner’s guide to open source.

What is a Chromebook?

A Chromebook is a low-cost laptop, but instead of running the Windows 10 or Mac OS X operating system, a Chromebook runs Google’s Chrome operating system. They start up quickly and have a long battery life, but they are designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, with most programs and documents living in the cloud.

Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba all make Chromebooks.

  • want to work on them, write long emails, organise files, and edit text documents, photos and spreadsheets
  • want to store files and photos on the device and access them without an internet connection
  • play DVDs.
  • want to play – browse the web, read ebooks, watch videos, shop online, and stay in touch with family and friends.
  • want it to be more portable
  • only need to type short emails, do internet searches and simple forms for online shopping
  • don’t need it as your main storage device and are happy to keep some files online.

Company Profile

Chinese giant Huawei is now the world’s second-largest supplier of smartphones; it also produces laptops and tablets and provides various types of communications infrastructure.

The company has made headlines recently for its controversial contract with the UK government to supply 5G mobile internet networks, as well as its central position in the trade dispute between Donald Trump’s US government and China.

It has also frequently been accused of colluding with the Chinese government to carry out mass-surveillance of its users – particularly as its CEO is a member of the Chinese communist party. However, there still appears to be a lack of conclusive evidence for such claims.
 
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If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table above.

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