Sustainable Information Technology

Green IT in the Home: The Ultimate Guide


Green Home Graphic

Are you concerned about the impact your home computing has on the environment? Are you sure you’re following Green IT guidelines when you buy a new PC or mobile, tablet or laptop?

What about energy consumption as you use your PC, or what to do when you dispose of it?

Up until now, the Green IT movement has been focused on making sure that large and medium sized organisations use Information Technology more efficiently and in a more environmentally friendly way. Corporations use a lot of IT kit, so it’s vital that they use IT  responsibly.

But why Green IT only for companies? We can use all of the same techniques and lessons learned in business and industry to make improvements in the way we use IT as private individuals in the home and on mobile devices.

Environmentally, this is crucial. Carbon emissions from domestic use of IT by each of us may well be tiny, but when those emissions are multiplied by the ever growing number of global users of IT, the problem becomes significant. It’s not just energy use either. There are other factors to consider – which is where the IT Lifecycle comes in.

 The Green IT Life Cycle

If you think that being a Green IT user in the home is only about buying a more energy-efficient PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet, this article is for you. Just like major corporations, we need to take into account the whole of the Green IT life cycle, and base our buying (or not buying) on a much wider set of considerations. We can think about the Green IT lifecycle in terms of these categories:

  • Materials, Manufacture and Transport
  • Use of IT equipment
  • Disposal of the equipment

Materials, manufacture and transport

The carbon footprint of IT equipment is produced in two kinds of ways. The one that most people are aware of is the amount of energy consumed while the kit is in use.

The second source of carbon, other Green House Gases and environmentally unfriendly effects is referred to as embodied emissions. Materials have to be mined, transported, transformed into devices through manufacturing processes, transported again, used and disposed of. You need to take embodied emissions into account to really embrace Green IT.

All of these activities and the carbon emissions they produce are embodied in the IT devices we use. And for each one there is a price to be paid which is not always just about emissions but also other issues such as working conditions, landfill use and disposal of toxic substances.

Materials, manufacture and transport are all about the supply chain. We need to consider how the earth’s raw materials are transformed and transported to become the IT devices which we find it increasingly difficult to do without. In practical terms, we need to investigate the manufacturers and retailers who provide our equipment. Do they treat and pay their workers fairly? Are they environmentally responsible? Do they work with and for the communities they are a part of, or do they exploit the people and environment around them?

 Use of IT Equipment – 5 Green IT questions answered

There’s a lot we can do to minimise environmental impact when we use home or mobile computing devices.

How can I choose energy efficient laptops or PCs?

Firstly, laptops usually consume significantly less energy than PCs and are therefore cheaper to run and generate less emissions. There are various certification schemes that compare energy efficiency in IT equipment, and you should check those to see which manufacturers are producing the Greener devices. Depending on where you are in the world, there could be a more specific local certification scheme, but you can start with the following list of resources:

Energy Star Computer Finder

If you’re at all concerned about the environment, I think this quote from Energy Star shows just how important Green IT is:

“If all computers sold in the U.S. met ENERGY STAR requirements, the savings in energy costs would grow to $1.8 billion each year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from more than 2 million vehicles.”

Energy Saving Trust – Recommended Computing Products

The Trust states that “around 12.2 million desktop computers in the UK, and around 17.3 million laptop computers. As the UK has around 26.5 million homes, domestic computers (desktops and laptops) now outnumber households.

Choosing an energy efficient desktop or laptop computer can have a real impact on reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.”

Sust-IT

I haven’t personally used sust-it’s services yet but their site seems like a very powerful resource. They’ve put a huge amount of work into providing lists of equipment ranked by annual power consumption, and you see running costs based on energy tariffs in the UK, US and many European countries.

Do I need the biggest storage drive or most powerful processor?

More storage and processor power is quickly becoming redundant as cloud computing becomes cheaper and more convenient. There are huge amounts of free storage available with Dropbox, GoogleDrive and Amazon Cloud Drive.

There are also many free or very inexpensive applications in the cloud, such as Google Apps. We need to start thinking of our computers as gateways into the internet where we can store our files and run our programs.

Are there ways to save energy and do other good Green IT stuff as I use home PCs and laptops?

There are indeed!

Always switch off computers when not in use, or use sleep mode settings. All Energy Star recommended devices come with power usage controls such as sleep mode, so make sure you set these.  For example, on a Windows device, go to the control panel and search on ‘Power option’. You can choose or edit a power plan, change battery settings or when the computer sleeps, and when to turn off the display.

Just as in a huge datacentre, airflow in your study or other room where you have computing equipment is important. Good airflow will result in your computer’s cooling fans kicking in less frequently – thereby saving energy. This is especially important with desktop PCs.

Modern LCD monitor screens do not need screensavers. Running screensaver software actually consumes energy, so don’t use one unless you have an old-fashioned screen.

Also think about printing – do you need to do it, and if so, can you use recycled paper?   

When should I replace an old PC that may be energy inefficient?

Replace old PC

I wonder if it's time to replace my old PC?

As technology improves, newer computers tend to use less energy than older ones. But just regularly buying the latest computer – besides being an expensive strategy! – isn’t the answer. Don’t forget that when you buy any computer, you also buy its embedded emissions, not just its potential to be more efficient in operation. So a new computer has to be MUCH more energy efficient to justify replacing an older one if you want to follow Green IT practices.

Although it doesn’t take embedded emissions into account as far as I can see, there is a service by Sust-IT (again, I haven’t used the service, and have no connection with the company) that they claim helps you to decide on “Repair vs New”. You fill in a form describing your current kit, and they send you back advice. If anyone has used this service, please let me know how it worked out.

What about energy sources?

To take Green It in the home seriously, you have to consider not just how much electricity is being used, but whether the power is being generated from low-carbon sources. The answer will of course be relevant for all of your electricity consumption in the house.

There is no substitute for research in this area. Go to your supplier’s web site and examine their claims on renewable energy, then find some independent opinion on whether that supplier lives up to their promises.

How should I dispose of computing equipment?

The UK Government has some solid advice in this area, not all of which will apply in other coutries. Try here for similar advice in the USA.

In addition to what’s already been said about keeping your computers and mobile devices for longer, the advice boils down to this:

  • Make sure you wipe all of your personal information!
  • Freecycle: give and receive unwanted items for free Opens new window
  • Freegle: give and receive unwanted items for free Opens new window
  • Donate to charities: some specialist charities use your donated technology in developing countries
  • Make sure you wipe all of your personal information!
  • Find an electrical recycling site or contact your local council’s recycling team
  • “When you buy a new electrical item, ask the shop where you buy it how they will help you recycle the item you’re replacing. Under the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Regulations, they must either:
    • accept in-store, free of charge an electronic item equivalent to the new item you’re buying
    • tell you where you can take the old item for recycling free of charge”

What else do you think should be added to our Green IT in the Home guide? Let us know!

Comments

  1. Daman Dev Sood says:

    Excellent read!

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