According to the Environmental Protection Agency, computers are responsible for two percent of the nation’s overall electricity consumption, nearly 58 billion kilowatt hours per year. Add to that the number of old computers and accessories clogging the nation’s landfills (and leaking heavy metals into the atmosphere) the environmental impact of computing becomes even more clear. Luckily, a number of options exist to help individuals, businesses and institutions green their use of this ubiquitous tech.
First of all, choose an Energy Star qualified computer, which will be 65% more efficient on average than equipment without this certification. Greenpeace also offers a Guide to Greener Electronics, which rates manufacturers such as Apple, HP and Dell based on a number of environmental factors, including energy efficiency, elimination of toxic chemicals, packaging and recyclability. When purchasing a computer, bear in mind that laptops are, on average, 50 percent more efficient than desktop models.
Once you have your new computer, make sure you activate its power management features and remember to turn it off when it’s not in use.
At the level of large businesses and research institutions, the matter of green computing becomes more complex. Energy-efficient computers and peripherals are still important, but for a variety of applications, it may be more ‘eco’ to farm out the heavy lifting through cloud computing. Cloud computing, essentially, allows business to take advantage of the economies of energy scale offered by large servers and data centers to handle everything from full-blown applications to storage and spam filtering. By using cloud computing, many businesses can often avoid having to purchase new computers and software, while saving money on energy bills.
But green IT is not all about physical equipment and kilowatt hours. Lizhe Wang, Ph.D, a research scientist at Indiana University who maintains the website of the Green Computing Project, points out that smart decisions about printing can also help businesses and institutions lighten their footprint. She told us “when you want to print something, ask yourself, do I really need it printed? Do I need colored printing? Do I really need high quality printing?” By going paper-free as much as possible, she says, businesses can save a significant amount of resources.