Not easy being green with modern technology
By Verena Wolff Dec 30, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Berlin - There's no way to get through modern life without the basics any more: namely a computer, a mobile, etc. But most people want to be environmentally friendly these days and that's where the conflicts begin.
Most modern electronic equipment either contains poisonous substances or uses enough energy that there's no choice to brand it as anything but environmentally unfriendly. Basically, most electronics are neither green, nor environmentally friendly.
'The greenest IT is the one that hasn't been created yet,' says Bernd Gruendel, a hardware expert.
Still, by taking a little time, it's possible to save both the environment and your wallet.
When faced with the option to buy or upgrade to new technology, customers need to ask themselves: 'Do I really need this smartphone, if I already have a mobile and a PC?'
After all, a purchase is both the beginning and end of the purchasing cycle. 'Every purchase generates new demand and ramps up production.'
Manufacturing electronics consumes the most resources: energy, water, raw materials and rare elements. 'When you buy something, you have to balance the hazardous components, the energy consumption, the manufacture and transport,' says Christof Windeck, an editor with the German computer magazine c't.
An even bigger problem, from an environmental viewpoint, is disposal of used electronics. 'They can't be thrown out with regular household garbage, but have to be taken to special waste depots,' says Isabel Richter, who focuses on environmental and sustainability for Bitkom, a German IT industry association.
Some manufacturers take back old devices when they sell new ones. Ideally, those are then disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.
'Nonetheless, a lot of these devices find their way illegally to Africa,' says Gruendel. There they are taken apart, usually in a very non-environmentally-friendly way, with workers and the environment both exposed to dangers.
That's a big difference from day-to-day use, where computers pose almost no danger. 'Guidelines for materials and chemicals (in manufacture) have had high standards for years,' says Richter.
A few years ago, Greenpeace put out its guidelines for green energy. 'The goal was to get manufacturers to stop using polyvinylchloride (PVC) and bromine-based fire retardants,' says Christian Woelbert of c't. Many manufacturers created self-imposed deadlines for meeting those goals. Nonetheless, there hasn't been much progress.
Consumers can help by making their use of technology green. That means using energy-saving functions and unplugging devices when they're not in use. It also means paying attention to energy consumption when making purchases.
There are also ways to optimize energy consumption now and then after purchase. 'That includes substituting components with more energy efficient ones, for example, when you take the device in for repair,' Gruendel notes.
There are no generally accepted energy use standards for IT products. 'That would take getting all the different norms and consumer values under one roof,' says Gruendel. Nonetheless, many consumer tests rate devices based on their environmental standards.
Also, most devices list the maximal energy consumption in watts in their technical information, meaning consumers can compare those.
That said, the demand for green IT is still limited, says Woelbert. 'Components, price and design count; environmental friendliness doesn't.'
But the hardware isn't the only factor. There's also the question of regularly clearing off the computer and using pre-installed or pre-packaged energy saving software. People also need to think about the kind of hardware they need and buy with that in mind.
'If you need a new computer, buy a modern one, but not an over-the-top one,' recommends Windeck.
One way of saving energy while using a computer is to turn off the screensaver. 'A PC uses up to 50 per cent more energy running a complicated 3D screen saver,' explains Richter.
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