Green Computing

green computing
Creative Commons License photo credit: guiguis

As our understanding of the environmental issues affecting us all continues to grow in line with computer use so it makes perfect sense that the two subjects should cross over in the form of green computing.

What Is Green Computing?

In a nutshell green computing is the concept of trying to make the manufacturing and use of computers as eco friendly as possible. Whilst this can require considerable effort – particularly for corporations – there are a huge number of ways in which computing can be made more green.

One example relates to the precious metals necessary to build the microchips used in all modern computers. Not only are these precious metals in very short supply but their extraction from the earth and subsequent processing into usable forms can lead to significant environmental degradation and pollution being produced. In this way finding ways to extend the lifespan of all computer equipment is just one way in which green computing practices can be implemented both in the home and in the workplace.

Rather than replacing systems on a regular basis, efforts can be made to repair or upgrade outdated computer systems and in cases where a computer really has reached the end of its usable life despite all other efforts it should be disposed of properly through a computer recycling facility so that as many parts can be reused or recycled as possible.

Another example of green computing in action relates to the considerable energy drain that most computers cause. Implementing strategies to reduce this energy use – and to ensure the energy that computers *do* use is environmentally sustainable – is yet another step towards the green computing ideal.

The Benefits Of Green Computing

First and foremost of course green computing is focused around minimizing your computers impact on the environment. Not only does this have the potential to significantly slow down the issues of environmental degradation, habitat destruction, climate change and the like but also, should you be operating a business, helps to keep you in line with consumer tastes for companies with green and ethical policies.

Of course there are other benefits of green computing, most of which are derived from the less wasteful way in which computers can be used. By repairing or upgrading computer systems less money needs to be spent on suitable replacements thus reducing the costs of owning a computer. Efforts to reduce their energy use also have the very real potential to save money on utility bills.

In short green computing really benefits both the environment as a whole but also the individual user or company implementing these practices as they can offer significant cost savings as well as reducing the impact of computing on the environment.

Disadvantages Of Green Computing

Whilst the advantages of green computing are obvious in many ways they go strangely against typical computer use. Most individual users are used to leaving their wifi and computer on for extended periods of time without concern. They like to buy the newest, greatest computer system – even if they don’t need one (iPad anyone?!) – because computers aren’t just tools to many people but toys. They are a source of constant entertainment with new games, peripherals, applications and so on being constantly launched.

For companies the problems can be even tougher. Most IT departments function around regularly replacing computer equipment and trouble-shooting. Implementing strategies so that all computers are turned off overnight rather than being left to back-up, update or check for viruses may seem like an alien concept to many people and so a change to the company culture may be required before green computing practices really become the norm.

Overall the biggest issue with green computing is that it can be so far from what we are used to that implementing these strategies can seem a little uncomfortable at first. We’re used to using our computers when and how we want so suddenly looking for ways to save energy, reduce the waste from printers, find eco-friendly printer ink and recycled printer paper all take time and effort initially. This “transition phase” from old-school computer use to green computing practices will require some initial focus although like any new habit it should become automatic soon enough.

Green Computing Practices

Whilst whole books have been written about green computing there are a number of common sense green computing practices that can be followed in order to make your computer use more environmentally-friendly.

Switch Off Your Computer When Not In Use

It sounds simple enough but a surprising number of people leave their computer in “sleep mode” for extended periods of time such as overnight or when they’re nipping off for a lunch break. Certainly starting up a computer uses more power than it uses once it’s up and running so shutting it down simply to answer the phone or make a cup of tea may be a step too far but if it will be some time until you will be using your computer next time try actually turning it off – both at the switch and at the wall – to save on power.

Turn Off Unnecessary Elements

If you’re not using your printer, switch it off. If you don’t need to sound on, turn it off. If you have an external disc drive that you don’t use all the time unplug it. Just pay attention to unnecessary power drains – peripherals and features of your computer that you don’t need right now – and save power by turning them off and/or unplugging them.

Use Vegetable-Based Printer Ink

Standard printer inks contain a battery of unpleasant chemicals that can be bad for both your own health and that of the environment. As an alternative seek out more eco friendly alternatives such as vegetable-based printer inks that work just as well but are far safer to use.

Use Recycled Computer Paper

This is an easy win. Firstly of course only print out what you absolutely have to but secondly if you have to print out a document ensure that you use recycled paper or printer paper made from sustainably managed forests so that trees aren’t being unnecessarily destroyed.

Use Your Printer Smartly To Save Paper

Another useful tip for saving both paper and ink is to investigate the various applications available for smarter printing. For example some of these applications will eliminate the border around the text so you can get more words onto a single piece of paper, others will remove unnecessary items such as adverts if you’re printing from the internet and still others will shrink down your document so you can print multiple pages on a single sheet of paper.

Buy A Solar Charger For Your Laptop

If you’re using a laptop – which are generally more energy-efficient computers than desktops, consider investing in a solar-powered charger to keep the battery topped up with renewable, sustainable power.

Switch Your Home To Sustainable Energy

Another option is to switch your home or business to a green energy supplier so that all the electricity you use will be from wind farms and solar installations rather than from the burning of fossil fuels like petrol and coal.