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Are Your Computer Habits Bad for the Environment?

Minimize the impact of your electronics Everybody has a computer today. They’re like wristwatches or televisions. But how much does your computer use contribute to greenhouse gasses and their global warming effect? You might be surprised!

Conservative estimates rank computer usage right up there with the airline industry for its harmful effect on the atmosphere, making it responsible for up to 2% of the total problem. To put your mind at ease, that doesn’t mean your household PC is all that nasty. That figure includes all the industrial server farms, government supercomputers, and college networks. Unfortunately, there are a lot more of them than you might think. Even your average grocery store has a server room somewhere in it to run the “back office” (accounts receivable and inventory control) and “front office” (cash registers and checkout system) components of its operation.

So how much damage does your average PC do? Running one 8 hours per day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year will use 400 kilowatt hours or 180,800 grams of carbon dioxide (452 grams – just shy of a pound – per hour X 2,000 hours). That sounds like a lot but when you consider that a home PC accounts for less than ten percent of the average home’s energy bill (according to MR. Electricty AKA Michael Bluejay of Michaelbluejay.com) it’s not that big of a number in the overall picture. Your water heater, furnace, and refrigerator are much bigger carbon offenders.

But as my mother always used to say “every little bit helps.” So here are some ways to go greener and keep your high-speed digital lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed.

  1.  Use the power management tools your PC manufacturer gave you!
    All modern PCs come with the ability to regulate their own power use. You can easily set your computer to enter a reduced consumption mode (sometimes called sleep or hibernation) and even power itself down completely if it remains idle for a certain length of time.
  2. Unplug your machine.
    Even when it’s off, your PC uses about a Watt per hour. This is what’s known as phantom draw. The only way to cancel this out is to unplug the machine entirely.
  3. Plan your day with the planet in mind.
    When you think about it, there’s really no reason to leave your PC on all the time while you’re in the other room, outside, or otherwise engaged. Also, consider doing everything you need to do once as starting up and shutting down your PC repeatedly consumes more energy than just letting it idle.
  4. Avoid the next best thing.
    PCs seem to age quicker than Dorian Gray. If you buy one that’s top of the line in December and it’s outdated by July. However, resist the temptation to buy a whole new system. Manufacturing a PC is an extremely carbon intensive task. Not only that, PCs contain all sorts of toxic waste, heavy metals, and other harmful materials that we don’t need more of in landfills. When you need to upgrade, consider upgrading piecemeal, it will save you money and the environment a headache.
  5. Shop smartly!
    A large number of PC manufacturers have begun to build earth friendly (or at least friendlier) computers in response to the consumer desire for products that are better for our planet. One of the first was Dell. Believe it or not, they have a whole line of Eco-Friendly computer Accessories, some of which are made with up to 70% recycled materials, contain fewer heavy metals and some, like this PC, whose cases are made out of sustainable bamboo!

Lastly, when it comes time to get rid of your old computer, think green. Does your computer still work? Could a local non-profit or school organization use your computer (or parts from your computer)? Do you have a charity-based resale shop in your area such as a Goodwill Industries retail store? Do you have anyone in your family (a young child or an older adult just learning the ropes of the computing world) that could use your old PC? Why not give your PC a second life?

One important note: when giving/selling any PC it’s best to thoroughly destroy all personal data on that computer. “Deleting” it isn’t enough. There are free software programs available that will completely overwrite any data on your hard drive, rendering your machine a blank slate, and safeguarding any potentially harmful information you wouldn’t want anyone to have. See Killdisk.com for one such example.

When your PC is broken and finally “useless” don’t just throw it away. Ecycle your old machine. Many manufacturers offer free recycling services for machines purchased through them. Your local recycling center may also have electronics recycling services available. Recently, Staples has announced that it will recycle unwanted electronics (though not TVs) for free at any of their retail outlets across the country. See Gcycle.org for more recycling options for all of your technological gadgetry!

Be smart about your used electronics, they’re not just trash.


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  1. Very good article, i was really looking for this article, many many thanks.

  2. Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservationand improvement of the health of the environment, particularly as the measure for this health seeks to incorporate the concerns of non-human elements

    going green

  3. I help support computer recycling. It does Mother Earth a big favor. I truly helps the environment so much. Thank you for sharing such helpful information. I’ll be sharing this to others. Keep sharing helpful posts. =)

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