Lightening your computing environmental footprint

Computing has changed the world – a great example is the Internet. It’s hard to imagine either not existing.

While computer usage can actually lessen our environmental footprint, for example, being able to work from home (telecommuting) or control of farm irrigation and many other tasks, the energy consumption involved with casual computing and gaming generally is massive.

There’s not just the actual computer usage related electricity consumption, there’s also all the millions of tons of plastic and metal used to create the billions of computers in their various forms now on this planet.

We can all do our bit in lessening our impact and the following are  tips for more earth friendly computing, some of which will also save you cash!

– When not in use for extended periods, switch your computer off at the wall to avoid phantom power load consumption.

– Have your power saving/management options enabled and properly configured for periods when your computer is temporarily not in use. In Windows, this can be found in Settings/Control Panel/Power Options

– During usage, only have your screen as bright as you need it – unnecessarily bright screens really chew the juice

– If you’re going to use a screen saver, use a blank (black) screen – animated screen savers just consume electricity unnecessarily.

– When buying components and peripheral items, try to choose those that come in the least amount of plastic packaging as possible.

– For your next computer, consider a notebook instead of desktop – these use under 50% the electricity of a desktop machine

– If you can afford it, buy extended warranty with your new system so there’s less likelihood of you needing to junk the computer within the first few years if an expensive repair is needed.

– Do you really need a 22 inch screen? When considering your next screen purchase, balance your wants with your actual needs.

– Before purchasing a new computer, consider upgrading the hardware in your current machine. Some extra RAM (memory) or a new hard drive may be all you need to restore life to your current system. According to this site, the energy needed to churn out a new computer is enough to power a system for a decade!

– Following on from the above point; it’s not uncommon for Windows to get slower as time goes on. This isn’t necessarily your machine, but software bloat. All the updates, installing and uninstalling of software, applications running in the background that you don’t really need take their toll and basically clog your machine up; seriously impacting on performance, which in turn is more wear and tear on hardware and increase electricity consumption. Consider doing a reinstallation of Windows and your software. A lean machine will sip less electricity and perform much better.

– When you do replace your current computer system, donate it rather than bin it if possible. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, e-waste is now the fastest growing aspect of the municipal waste stream. You can find places to donate your computer to on

– Consider a refurbished computers for your next purchase. These aren’t dusty old machines that have just been wiped over; often they are display models or recent purchase returns with very little wear and tear that are thoroughly checked before sale, and often have the same guarantee that new units do. You can save a ton of cash this way!

The computer recycling problem

While putting a computer in for recycling isn’t the worst step your could take, it’s important to remember that e-cycling (recycling of electrical components) is a bit of a minefield.

Sometimes they aren’t recycled at all and in some instances your computer could be shipped to China (more emissions in transportation) where poorly equipped and impoverished people are set the gruelling task of stripping down the systems and reclaiming some of the precious metals. It’s nasty and highly toxic work and just another instance whereby we’ve been outsourcing our pollution.

If you are going to recycle your machine, check the recycler out – ask about their practices; for example, if the system will be stripped down locally and in safe/environmentally responsible conditions. Also try to keep as many components as you can as backups – for example, the mouse and keyboard.

I learned this the hard way recently when disposing of some equipment, only to find out it wound up in landfill  due to the recycler having too many computers.

Do you have some earth friendly computer usage tips you’d like to share? Please add them below!