Length:  73 minutes
Date:  2017
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English
Grade level: 7 - 9, College, Adults
Color/BW:  Color
Closed captioning available
Interactive transcript available

Death By Design

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Investigates the underbelly of the international electronics industry and reveals how even the tiniest devices have deadly environmental and health costs.

Death By Design

Consumers love - and live on - their smartphones, tablets and laptops. A cascade of new devices pours endlessly into the market, promising even better communication, non-stop entertainment and instant information. The numbers are staggering. By 2020, four billion people will have a personal computer. Five billion will own a mobile phone.

But this revolution has a dark side that the electronics industry doesn't want you to see.

In an investigation that spans the globe, award-winning filmmaker Sue Williams investigates the underbelly of the international electronics industry and reveals how even the tiniest devices have deadly environmental and health costs.

DEATH BY DESIGN tells the stories of young Chinese workers laboring in unsafe conditions, American families living with the tragic consequences of the industry's toxic practices, activists leading the charge to hold brands accountable, and passionate entrepreneurs who are developing more sustainable products and practices to safeguard our planet and our future.

From the intensely secretive electronics factories in China, to the high tech innovation labs of Silicon Valley, DEATH BY DESIGN tells a story of environmental degradation, of health tragedies, and the fast-approaching tipping point between consumerism and sustainability.

No classroom resources available.

No transcript available.

'An extraordinary film. I have studied the problem of environmental hazards in the global electronics industry for 20 years and this is the best documentary I have seen on the subject matter. This film explains the sources of the environmental threats in the industry, demonstrates how local struggles are linked to global scale phenomena, and chronicles how community leaders around the world are taking positive steps to address these challenges. I will use this film in my courses for years to come.' David Naguib Pellow, Professor of Environmental Studies, University of California - Santa Barbara, Co-author, Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry

'Death by Design makes the invisible visible, and pushes us to consider the extent and nature of the ecological degradation and human health impacts of our digital lifestyle. Through powerful narrative and images, the film presents this challenge to students and community members. This is an excellent resource to stimulate discussion and motivate action related to the heavy ethical and environmental burdens of the digital age.' Dr. Jonathan Beever, Assistant Professor of Ethics and Digital Culture, Director, Theoretical and Applied Ethics Certificate Program, University of Central Florida

'An eco-doc that may open eyes even for those already concerned about e-waste...Think twice before you upgrade that phone.' John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter

'Few people are aware of the myriad negative environmental and social impacts that result from our love affair with circuitry. Sue Williams' documentary powerfully introduces some of these 'hidden' impacts, and is a useful tool for educators, sustainability advocates, consumers, and other stakeholders to begin exploring and discussing impacts throughout the life cycles of electronic products.' Joy Scrogum, Emerging Technologies Resource Specialist, Co-coordinator of Sustainable Electronics Initiative, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

'You won't look at your iPhone in quite the same way again after viewing Sue Williams' thoughtful documentary.' Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times

'When we enter the pristine, minimalist confines of an Apple store to update our 16-month old phone, the true cost of our behavior remains largely hidden. This eye-opening documentary reveals the strain the digital revolution has put on the environment and on the laborers who build our devices. This is a tale of the dark side of global capitalism, but it also invites us to think critically about the morality of the choices we make as consumers. Digital natives need to watch this.' Dr. Bastiaan Vanacker, Associate Professor and Program Director, Center for Digital Ethics and Policy, Loyola University - Chicago

'Everyone should see this film.' Sydney Brownstone, The Stranger

'Both jaw-dropping and heartbreaking, Death by Design forces the viewer to reconsider their whole approach to technology and this mad and unsustainable obsession with constantly upgrading.' Hannah Clugston, Aesthetica Magazine


Award of Excellence, Special Mention: Documentary Feature, Impact DOCS Awards
Honorable Mention, Environmental Award, Sheffield Doc/Fest
Boston Globe Filmmakers Fund Award, Globe Docs Documentary Film Festival
Honorable Mentions: Best International Documentary, Best Environmental Documentary, Seattle International Film Festival
Honorable Mention, Melbourne Documentary Film Festival
Honorable Mention, Ojai Film Festival
One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival
Traverse City Film Festival
Bergen International Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Mill Valley Film Festival
DocPoint Helsinki Documentary Film Festival
Sonoma International Film Festival
Wild and Scenic Film Festival
Martha's Vineyard Film Festival
Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival
Salt Spring Film Festival
San Francisco Green Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival, Australia
Olympia Film Festival
Kosmorama Trondheim International Film Festival
One Earth Film Festival
Global Health Film Festival
South African Eco Film Festival
41 North Film Festival at Michigan Tech University
Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival
Green Mountain Film Festival


Main credits

Williams, Sue (film director)
Williams, Sue (screenwriter)
Williams, Sue (film producer)
Steinman, Hilary Klotz (film producer)

Other credits

Director of photography, Sam Shinn; composer, Paul Brill; editor, Adam Zucker.

Distributor credits

Hilary Klotz Steinman, Sue Williams

Sue Williams

Hilary Klotz Steinman, Sue Williams
Sue Williams
Writer: Sue Williams
Director of Photography: Sam Shinn
Editor: Adam Zucker
Music: Paul Brill
Narrator: Sue Williams
A film by Ambrica Productions in association with Impact Partners

Docuseek2 subjects

Applied Anthropology
Business Ethics
Occupational Health and Safety
Recycling and Waste
Toxic Chemicals
Environmental Health
Public Health
Human Rights
Social Aspects
Asian Studies
Environmental Justice

Distributor subjects

Asian Studies
Climate Change/Global Warming
Environmental Justice
Global Issues
Human Rights
International Studies
Labor and Work Issues
Science, Technology, Society
Toxic Chemicals


electronics not a clean industry, human and environmental cost, electronic gadgets, designed to die, planned obsolescence, smartphones, tablets, non-stop entertainment, instant information, personal computer, mobile phone, deadly environmental and health costs, Chinese workers, unsafe conditions, toxic practices, more sustainable products, toxic pollution in Silicon Valley, Apple's production in China, environmental degradation, health tragedies, tipping point, consumerism, sustainability, discharging waste, poisoning populations, undercover in Chinese factories, Foxconn's suicides, Foxconn's explosions, poor working conditions, low pay, attempted suicide, used electronic equipment, Ma Jun, Endicott NY, devastated by IBM, e-waste, toxic chemicals, chemical exposure, environmental and human cost of information age, Foxconn, Shenzhen, China, iFixit, sustainable electronics, iAMECO, wooden computers, IBM's corporate mortality file, pollution knows no boundaries, Kyle Wiens; "Death By Design"; Bullfrog Films

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