The information revolution helped spark the green revolution. Computers have been instrumental in everything from designing more-efficient engines to running alternative-energy power plants to distributing information on the Internet that allows us to make smarter, greener choices.
But computers themselves can be a bit of a problem. Many of their components are manufactured using noxious chemicals, other components present safe disposal problems, and of course, they can be power-hungry consumers of electricity.
Here are a few ways you can do your computing in a more planet-positive way.
1) The good news on cost: on the whole, greener computers don’t cost much more than their non-green siblings. And you’ll save money every minute they’re running, not to mention the peace of mind you’ll get.
2) Before you buy, do the research, using sites like Metaefficent.com. They’ll tell you which companies are doing the most, and which models are the greenest (and which are the worst) The EPEAT system was created by electronics manufacturers working with the EPA to evaluate computers; they’ve got a great set of search tools on their website. And Greanpeace has a great greener-electronics guide on their site.
3) Energy costs have gone up so much that businesses that use large numbers of PCs are finally starting to take the power consumption of their computers seriously, pushing manufacturers to get serious about efficiency. Dell offers some good models, like their Studio Hybrid; if you’re on the Apple side, the Mac Mini is another energy sipper.
4) The European Union has implemented a Restriction of Hazardous Substances ban that cuts allowable levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and flame retardants. Even if you don’t live in Europe, you can use RoHS information when buying your home computer.
5) Go with a laptop rather than a desktop. Laptop computers typically have energy-efficiency built right in, to optimize battery life. Add an external monitor, mouse and keyboard for when you’re working at home, and you’re set.
6) For peak efficiency, go for a peak monitor. Lenovo is one of the best; among EPEAT’s gold-certified monitors, 11 of 15 were made by Lenovo. Dell is also making a big push in this area. Look for monitors with reduced energy consumption, often made from recycled materials.
7) Just about everything comes with excessive packaging these days, with huge cardboard boxes full of bulky, non-biodegradable styrofoam. But not all – for instance, HP’s DV6929 laptop comes packed in a messenger bag, itself made of 100% recycled material. Hint: when companies go the low-packaging route, it’s often for units that are already very green; the DV6929 is EPEAT-silver.
8) Recycle your old computers and components responsibly! That probably means more than just taking it down to the landfill. In some places, it’s even the law – Texas just passed mandatory recycling. There are a number of resources online, like technocycle.com. A Google search can help you find resources in your area.
9) When your computer is running, you want to optimize your power usage. Verdiem has a free software application, Edison, that allows quick, easy, one-step setup to optimize your computer’s power usage.
10) Do you know about vampire power? Even when off, many computers and monitors can draw a watt of power or more. Put your systems on a power strip, and when you shut down, turn off the power switch on the strip.
11) Finally – really, turn it off! Many people leave their systems running 24/7, burning enough energy to light a small city. Give it a rest!