Green Computing – How You Can Make a Difference

What is Green Computing?

Global warming and environmental change have become big issues with governments, corporations and your average Joe alike all seeking out new ways to green up their daily activities. Computers certainly make up a large part of many peoples lives and traditionally are extremely damaging to the environment, which begs the question: What is Green Computing?

Green Computing is the study and practice of minimising the environmental impact of computers through efficient: manufacturing, use, and disposal.

Problems of Electronic Waste

Electronic waste is an increasing problem globally due to the quick obsolescence of electronics, which make up a staggering 70% of all hazardous waste. Computer waste is high in many toxic materials such as heavy metals and flame-retardant plastics, which easily leach into ground water and bio-accumulate. In addition, chip manufacturing uses some of the deadliest gases and chemicals known to man and requires huge amounts of resources.

In an average year 24 million computers in the United States become obsolete. Only about 14% (or 3.3 million) of these will be recycled or donated. The rest – more than 20 million computers in the U.S. — will be dumped, incinerated, shipped as waste exports or put into temporary storage to be dealt with later. We never stop to consider what happens when our laptop dies and we toss it. The reality is that it either rots in a landfill or children in developing countries end up wrestling its components apart by hand, melting toxic bits to recover traces of valuable metals like gold.

Wasting Electricity

The manufacturing of a computer consumes 1818 kw/h of electricity before it even gets turned on and when running, a typical computer uses 120 watts. Research shows that most PCs are left idle all day, and many of them are left on continuously. Every time we leave computers on we waste electricity without considering where that electricity comes from. The majority of the world’s electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels which emit pollutants such as sulphur, and carbon dioxide into the air. These emissions can cause respiratory disease, smog, acid rain and global climate change.

The Future of Green Computing

A Canadian company, Userful Corporation, have come up with a solution that turns 1 computer into 10 – DiscoverStation. Quickly becoming the standard for green computing worldwide, DiscoverStation leverages the unused computing power of modern PCs to create an environmentally efficient alternative to traditional desktop computing. Multiple users can work on a single computer by simply attaching up to 10 monitors, mice and keyboards. This makes it possible to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 15 tons per year per system and reduce electronic waste by up to 80%. Userful has recently stated that in the last year their software has saved over 13,250 tons of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of taking 2,300 cars off the road. (More info at: )

The European Union

The European Union is tackling the problem twofold. Companies are now required to produce computers free of the worst toxic materials and are responsible for taking back their old products. Faced with disassembling parts and cycling them back into the fabrication process, companies are making more careful decisions about how those parts are assembled in the first place. In 2002 NEC came out with the first computer to use lead-free solder, a fully recyclable plastic case, and which contained no toxic flame-retardants. Since then many computer companies worldwide have started selling lead-free PCs and it is becoming common practice for companies to offer their customers free recycling of their old computers.

Ways To Go Green

Here are some suggestions that will help you reduce your computer energy:>

  • Don’t use screen savers. They waste energy, not save it.
  • Buy computers & monitors labelled “energy star” which can be programmed to automatically “power-down” or “sleep” when not in use.
  • If you are using more than 1 PC, Userful’s 10 to 1 advantage can save electricity and your wallet.
  • Turn your computer and peripherals off when not in use. This will not harm the equipment.
  • Use flat panel monitors, which use about half of the electricity of a cathode-ray tube (CRT) display.
  • Buy ink jet printers, not laser printers. Ink jet printers use 80 to 90 percent less energy than laser printers and print quality can be excellent.

If all of us did this every day, we could make a small difference. We only have one earth; let’s treat it right.