The Sustainable Smartphone

Lesson Objective

In this lesson students explore the concept of conflict minerals and gain an understanding of the impact of resources used in the production and consumption of mobile phones. Students will research the Fairphone social enterprise and design a Smartphone based on a more sustainable model.  

  • Students will understand the role and impact of resource use;
  • Students will understand the concept of conflict minerals; and
  • Students will begin to take responsibility for sustainable consumption habits.

 Australian Curriculum Content Description

Year 9 & 10 Design and Technology
  • Critically analyse factors, including social, ethical and sustainability considerations, that impact on designed solutions for global preferred futures and the complex design and production processes involved (ACTDEK040)
  • Explain how products, services and environments evolve with consideration of preferred futures and the impact of emerging technologies on design decisions (ACTDEK041)
Year 9 Geography    Year 10 Geography
  • The effects of the production and consumption of goods on places and environments throughout the world and including a country from North-East Asia(ACHGK068)
  • Present findings, arguments and explanations in a range of appropriate communication forms, selected for their effectiveness and to suit audience and purpose; using relevant geographical terminology, and digital technologies as appropriate (ACHGS070)
  • The environmental worldviews of people and their implications for environmental management (ACHGK071)
  • Present findings, arguments and explanations in a range of appropriate communication forms selected for their effectiveness and to suit audience and purpose, using relevant geographical terminology and digital technologies as appropriate (ACHGS079)                  


Lesson Outline

Time required: 180 minutes

  1. There are a lot of elements that go into a smart phone. View the image Chemical Elements of a Smartphone and ask the students to work out how many elements go into manufacturing a Smartphone.
  2. Explain to students about the production supply chain. That is, the process of bringing a raw mineral to the consumer market which involves the extraction, transport, handling, trading, processing, smelting, refining and alloying, manufacturing and sale of end product.
  3. Ask students if they understand the difference between a mineral, metal and material. Refer to the terms below and provide some examples. Minerals: the raw stuff that comes from the ground (ore, as in the rock that contains minerals). Metals: what comes out of these minerals. Material: what is created from these metals and minerals; eg, how cassiterite (mineral) is taken to a smelter, where rawcassiterite ore is smelted and becomes tin (a metal).
  4. Ask students if they ever heard of the word “conflict minerals”? Conflict minerals are tantalum ore (coltan), tungsten ore (wolframite), tin ore (cassiterite) and gold that originates from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or adjoining country, from areas controlled by armed groups or that helped to finance the conflict. The DRC, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, has been involved in a long‐running bloody civil war in which rebel groups fight over access to minerals and profit from illicit trade.      
  5. Watch the following vides for more information on conflict minerals and the initiatives that have been established to find alternatives: Conflict-Free Tin initiatives (00:52 mins).
  6. Introduce the students to the Fairphone social enterprise which is based in Europe and has designed and developed a smartphone with conflict-free minerals and minimal harm to people and the environment. Watch the Fairphone video on Vimeo
  7. Break your class into groups of at least six. Ask students to read the Fairphone roadmaps and complete the first task on the Student Worksheet: Fairphone Case study.
  8. Answer summary is below:


Conflict-free or responsibly mined minerals

Improve working conditions for miners

Reduce mining degredation

Address child labour

Trace minerals to their source


Design for longevity

Design for reparability

Transparency on how the phone is designed


Better working and employee conditions

Safe conditions

Fair pay

Allow employee feedback

Reuse and Recycling

Extend the life of the phone

Offer spare parts and repairs

Offer responsible and safe recycling

Don’t  send old phones overseas to countries that are not set up to recycle


  1. Once complete, ask each group to develop ideas for their own sustainable smart phone that has been designed in a safe, ethical and responsible way. Allow 15 minutes for brainstorming.
  2. Once groups have completed their brainstorming, it's time for them to create the concept of their sustainable phone. Students can create a presentation (e.g. Prezi or Powerpoint), blog or an infographic (e.g. Piktochart). The presentation should include:
    • The name of the Smartphone
    • An outline of what it does
    • The main sustainable features
    • How the product improves the mobile phone life cycle
    • Supporting images
  3. Ask students to make their presentations to the class.
  4. Assessment/Reflection: Ask students to use the Peer Assessment Rubric to assess group presentations.

Extension Activities

Ask students to research a conflict-mineral (such as tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold), how is the mineral used in the production of a mobile phone and what is being done to use conflict-free minerals by the mobile phone manufacturers. Play the MobileMuster Resources Map game and see if you can work out what countries produce the minerals that go into making a mobile phone.

Download and print the PDF document.