11 ways to be a greener geekHome » Latest issue » Good, issue 3 » The goods » 11 ways to be a greener geek
The geek will inherit the earth—but first, we need to clean up our act. Chris Keall finds 11 ways to make your PC more PC
1. Switch off
It’s always been geek folklore that it’s best to leave your PC switched on around the clock. Not so you never miss an instant message (though that’s important, obviously) but because shutting it down then restarting uses more power than staying on 24/7. Wrong. PC World magazine ran some tests, and it turns out that if you’re going to be away from your desktop for more than 16 minutes, it’s more power efficient to switch it off. No one would have the patience for that kind of reboot regime, but it certainly puts the don’t-ever-switch-it-off theory into the realms of urban myth.
2. Attack of the killer iPod
Power adapters for USB peripherals like your iPod, digital camera or cellphone will continue to draw power from your computer, even if your computer is turned off—and even if you’ve pulled out your iPod and just left its USB power dongle dangling. The only way to stop the leak is to turn the power off at the wall.
On laptops, nothing sucks power like wi-fi. If you’re not actively using wireless, switch it off. Bonus: your notebook’s battery will actually last more than 90 minutes between recharges at the wall.
3. Don’t be soft
When you turn off your PC, its monitor just goes into standby. Many desktops have what’s called ‘soft off’ when you hit that on/off switch on the case, and won’t truly stop sucking from the national grid until you switch off the power at the wall.
That’s a hassle, especially in an office with multiple PCs, but the likes of HPM sell extension boards with on/off timers from around $20 that will black things out for you.
4. Let some sunshine in
For maximum greenness, pick up a Voltaic Generator bag. While there have been bags slathered with solar panels before, the Voltaic is the first that generates enough power from the sun to recharge your laptop (it can also be used for your cellphone, PDA or iPod).
5. Saving nothing
Screen savers don’t save power; those flying Windows are designed to save your screen suffering burn-in, a permanent shadow effect caused by images on your screen staying static for too long. Screen savers use more electricity than if your screen were idle. Instead, simply turn your monitor off.
6. Green your desk
The best thing you can do to reduce your power is recycle your old CRT monitor, which can chug up to 75 watts and is swimming in lead. (Take it to a collection point on eDay, 4–5 October.)
New flat panel LCDs use 25 watts or less (assuming you’re using a 17- or 19-inch model). Better still, choose a notebook, which uses less power again.
For 100 percent green cred, get a notebook with a Flash or ‘solid state’ hard drive (essentially a big-ass version of the sort of memory card you use for your digital camera, rather than a traditional hard disk drive with its power hungry, heat-emitting spinning platters). Laptops with Flash drives, such as Lenovo’s ThinkPad X300 and HP’s Compaq 2510p, currently cost a whopping $2,000 more than those with trad hard drives, but expect economies of scale to start kicking in over the next 12 to 24 months.
7. Pass on that iPhone
These days, every company’s got green PR, but who’s walking the talk? Greenpeace rates the environmental friendliness of electronics companies’ manufacturing and recycling programs. Surprisingly, given that Al Gore is on its board, Apple has come in for some stick. Greenpeace reveals the inconvenient truth that the new 3G iPhone contains the same chemical nasties (polyvinyl chloride and brominated flame retardants) that earned Apple’s first-generation iPhone a planet-unfriendly rating. Competitors Sony Ericsson and Nokia have removed PVCs and BFRs, Greenpeace says.
8. Greenwash your avatar
I’ve got a friend who’s a lawyer and an otherwise outstanding citizen. But his wife complains he spends as much time playing World of Warcraft (WoW) as he does working or sleeping. He’s not alone in his addiction to the wildly successful internet role-playing game: the game has 11 million paying subscribers. By some estimates its virtual economy, if converted to real-world dollars, would be the eighth-largest in the world.
The average WoW freak spends six hours a day in its virtual world, consuming 1,248 kilowatt hours of electricity a year (153 kWh for the servers and 1,095 kWh for their PC). That makes running a WoW avatar the carbon-emission equivalent of burning through 11 cylinders of gas in your home barbecue, producing around 285 kilos of CO2 per year, per avatar (and many players, like my friend, run two or more avatars).
To reset the environmental balance, you can buy some carbon offsets through a site like www.offsettherest.com. It’ll cost you around $12 to keep your avatar, and your conscience, clean.
9. Energy superStars
You might already be aware of the international Energy Star programme; here, it’s looked after by the Energy, Efficiency and Conservation Authority. An Energy Star logo identifies a notebook, PC, monitor or printer (and other general consumer electronics gadgets and household appliances) that reaches a minimum standard of power efficiency when on, or in stand-by.
But EECA Energy Star project manager Nicola Boughtwood says it’s important to note that Energy Star standards are being refined, and tightened, all the time. The latest standard is Energy Star 4. Look for it on your next laptop.
A second rating, EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) measures the greenness of a product’s manufacture, and whether its maker has a recycling programme. Look for the highest rating, EPEAT Gold (achieved by Lenovo).
Look for products that are made from a high percentage of recyclable material. For example, network equipment maker D-Link says its latest modems and wi-fi gear are now made from materials that mean 98 percent of each product can be recycled.
Don’t just shove your PC out for your council’s curbside collection. PCs—especially older desktop PCs and CRT monitors—contain a lot of lead, mercury, polyvinyl chloride and other nasties that can leech into groundwater if not properly disposed of. And unlike most developed countries, New Zealand has no laws governing the disposal of toxic tech gear (though legislation based on EU standards is slowly working its way through the system).
If your brand of PC doesn’t have a free recycling programme (Dell does, having pioneered the concept in New Zealand, along with HP for printer cartridges, D-Link for networking gear and Vodafone for cellphone batteries), hire a commercial outfit like RCN. It’ll cost you about $50 per PC, but you’ll know that it’ll be disassembled in New Zealand, with toxic components shipped overseas to ISO 14001-certified recycling facilities.
If there’s still a little life left in your PC, don’t trash it. Donate it to the Computer Access New Zealand Trust, which works with the Ministry of Education to refurbish old tech gear for a new life in schools.