Sustainable Computing

bytebackOver the past half century, computers have made their mark on society. What once was a luxury technology has transformed into a necessity in both everyday life and the workplace. Computers have become a natural part of many social landscapes, frequently appearing in restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, retail stores, gyms, museums, and everywhere in between. Given their prevalence, one rarely pauses to think about computers from an environmental perspective and the deep footprint that technologies leave behind.

Out of all technologies, computers have one of the highest turnover rates, meaning that they are replaced rather frequently. The constant updates and development of new programs render some machines incompatible or too slow to keep up with changing times. Such “progress” leads many businesses to replace computers on average every three to four years, depending on the industry. With sustainability so often in the spotlight, it is crucial for individuals and companies to make smart computing decisions both in purchasing and in practice. Selecting products that are energy efficient, easily recyclable, and program compatible can lead to financial savings, lower energy expenditure, and a lower environmental impact in the long run.

Regardless of the computer age, model, or brand, altering one’s computer habits can lead to substantial energy savings. The U.S. Department of Energy provides easy guidelines to help users reduce computer energy consumption:

  • Turn off the monitor when away from a computer for more than 20 minutes
  • When away from a computer for more than 2 hours, turn off both the monitor and the CPU
  • Place computer accessories such as printers, scanners, and additional monitors on a power strip and turn off the strip when not in use
  • Enable power-down and sleep mode features
  • If using a newer LCD monitor, do not use a screen saver. These often consume more energy than simply leaving the screen up.

When smart computing practices are paired with energy efficient computers, the savings can be even greater. When individuals or companies find it necessary to replace computers, conducting some preliminary research on “green” computers can make the task much easier. In addition to price, function, and size, consumers should consider environmental aspects such as packaging, recyclability, and energy usage. For the unaware or unsure consumer, a variety of resources make understanding and digesting computer sustainability manageable.

EPEAT.net is a website that makes finding green electronics easy. EPEAT ranks products in a manner similar to LEED, providing bronze, silver, and gold badges of environmental performance. EPEAT uses eight main criteria to rank products which are then broken down into small subcategories. The criteria highlight key facets of sustainability which are important to any product. In ranking, EPEAT considers:

  • Reduction/ elimination of environmentally sensitive materials
  • Materials selection
  • Design for end life
  • Product longevity/ life cycle extension
  • Energy conservation
  • End of life management
  • Corporate performance
  • Packaging

In total, EPEAT used the criteria to rank over 800 different models of computers, awarding 25 bronze, 478 silver, and 353 gold certifications. Amongst the top in the Gold category are the Lenovo ThinkPad T400, Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro, DELL Latitude E6400 LED Display, and HP EliteBook 2530p Notebook PC Energy Star. Publications such as Laptop Magazine and PC World also provide information about green computing and efficiency.

With so much of today’s business being run online and through computers, implementing smart computing practices and using efficient machines have profound impacts on one’s overall sustainability. Given both the high turnover rate of computers and the dangers of electronic waste, sustainable practices and purchasing become even more important.

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