Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Just Owning Green Techology Dosen't Make You Green

In today's world many of the gadgets we use advertise that they are environmentally friendly. In some cases this is a clever advertising ploy meant to sway those of us who are environmentally conscious to purchase their product. Since there is no single international standard for eco-lables, these are considered vague and meaningless distinctions by the International Organization for Standardization. In other cases it is because of features built into the product such as power saving features in Energy Star compliant lighting, office equipment and appliances.

All of these are great Ideas but the burden is still on the consumer to use these products appropriately to maximize the benefit on the environment. Just owning green technology doesn't make you green. You still have to use good judgment in the way you consume resources. For instance the advent of the computerized office was supposed to eliminate paper waste. You remember the slogan the 'paperless office'. Well that was coined in the 1975 in Business Week Magazine. You'd think by now we'd be there. To the contrary the introduction of computers into the office increased paper use, doubling it from 1980 to 2000. The ability to print multiple copies without typing a document which are in turn easy to email and be printed again by the recipient accounts for some of the increase. Couple that with the ever growing paper trail that offices now keep to cover themselves from the IRS and other regulatory agencies as well as the ability of individuals to print documents at home as well as pictures, web pages, emails you can understand how the increase happened. To help minimize paper waste it is best to share documents online, write them to a disk or thumb drive to take with you or email them. You can also use recycled paper for those documents you have to print.

Energy Star compliant computers and monitors are nice but are rarely used to their fullest potential on desktop PC's. Instead we opt for screen savers that show off our computers graphic capabilities or our favorite family photo album. A computer running a screen saver causes our monitor and CPU to consume just as much energy as if you were actively using the computer. Computers and other appliances draw energy even if they are in sleep mode albeit not as much. It is still better to turn it off when its not in use. Even when the computer is turned off it consumes energy unless it is unplugged or turned off on a power strip. The best practice is to have all of your electronic equipment on power strips that can be turned off at the strip when not in use for prolonged periods of time. This will eliminate the vampire load drawn from the equipment which can consume 15 to 30 watts of power for each piece of equipment.

We all like to have the biggest and best monitors and television sets. With the advent of LCD screens at an affordable price its easier to fit that big screen in your home or office. This is good because Flat Screen monitors consume about 50% less energy than their CRT counterparts. This is also bad because a 17 inch LCD consumes 30% more energy than a 15 inch. Its best to have a screen that fits your needs instead of opting for the biggest screen you can squeeze into your workspace.

When looking for a printer consider buying an ink jet printer. It will consume about 80% less energy than a laser printer. Its also a good idea to share a printer on a network as opposed to having one in each cubicle or room of your home. A shared printer prints just as well and will use less energy as well as take up less space in your home or office than multiple printers.

Another important thing to consider is waste management. Do you have receptacles for recycling paper, aluminum and plastic in your home and office? These are some of the easiest items to collect for recycling , yet many never bother with it. When items that can be recycled go into a landfill everyone loses. Its more costly and takes more energy to produce the raw materials for these products than it takes to recycle them. There is also the cost of the city managing waste that could have been recycled. It cost taxpayer money to have municipal workers to pick up the trash, transport it and manage it in a landfill. Those garbage trucks are not exactly energy efficient vehicles either. Not to mention all the heavy equipment at the landfill like bulldozers, cranes and compactors that are required to bury these easily recyclable items into your local landscape.

Another factor to consider in waste management is how to dispose of your electronic equipment. Computers in particular contain many hazardous substances that are regulated by the EPA. Here is a list of just some of them:
  • Lead in cathode ray tube and solder
  • Arsenic in older cathode ray tubes
  • Selenium in circuit boards as power supply rectifier
  • Polybrominated flame retardants in plastic casings, cables and circuit boards
  • Antimony trioxide as flame retardant
  • Cadmium in circuit boards and semiconductors
  • Chromium in steel as corrosion protection
  • Cobalt in steel for structure and magnetivity
  • Mercury in switches and housing

Americans junk over 3 million tons of electronic waste every year and it is the fastest growing category in our waste stream. One solution is to pay to have these items properly managed by a recycling facility. Another option is to donate your used computer equipment to a non-profit computer refurbisher like Computers for Charity who can provide you with a receipt for a tax deduction. We can then use this equipment to help individuals and other charities and non-profits. If we can't take it we can point you to an recycling facility that will properly handle your e-waste for you.

Being Green isn't just about saving the environment. It makes economic sense too. It also feels great to help someone else in need with what would have more junk in our landfills.

1 comment:

  1. Really very informative post.I am totally impressed and You break it down nicely.

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