Complete guide to green computing

You don’t need to have seen An Inconvenient Truth or read the latest climate change research to know that the world is facing an environmental crisis. According to the government-commissioned Stern Report, global warming – if left untackled – will have serious consequences for us all: it only takes a global temperature rise of another 2 degrees for between 15% and 40% of species to face extinction. We in the UK might not be in the firing line, but neither can we afford to be complacent. Problems in the world’s food production will hit the entire human race, while severe weather and serious flooding may cause billions of pounds of damage in years to come.

Complete guide to green computing

So what, you might ask, does climate change have to do with computers? Plenty. According to figures from the ecological analysis firm Best Foot Forward, computers are responsible for 2.6% of the UK’s energy consumption. What’s more, the PC and consumer electronics industries consume a surprising amount of energy and resources, and are rapidly creating a huge mountain of waste, much of it dangerous. The UN’s environmental programme estimates that 50 million tonnes of waste from discarded electronic goods is generated annually and, at the moment, much of this isn’t being disposed of responsibly, but being swept under the carpet in the world’s poorest countries.

This article has been broken down into three parts, to help you make environmentally sound decisions before, during and after the lifetime of your IT equipment. Whether you’re a home user with a single PC or an IT manager looking after a thousand systems, the buying decisions you make and your computing habits can make a significant difference. Buy smartly, use resources efficiently and help to recycle your equipment, and you’ll reduce the UK’s power consumption and help to cut down that waste pile. Along the way, you might even save a little money.

Before you buy your PC

If you’re concerned about the environment, you’re not alone -look at the website of any global PC manufacturer and you’ll find details of “citizenship” programmes or environmental credentials. Most major corporations have a policy in place regarding energy consumption and waste management in their own production facilities, and most are aware that product recycling and hazardous chemicals are now sensitive issues.

But how do you tell the genuine global warming initiatives from the corporate hot air? Don’t stop at the rhetoric, look for detailed reports. Sony, for example, breaks down the environmental impact of its activities into an analysis that covers everything from the CO2 emissions created while transporting its products (695,000 tonnes during fiscal year 2005) to products collected and recycled (30,000). That might be too much information when you’re merely deciding whether to buy a VAIO laptop or not, but try to look for the following elements:

Recycling Does the manufacturer make provisions for recycling its own products, or is it merely waiting for the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive to kick in?

Chemical usage Does the company go the extra mile and monitor chemicals used in its products, above those banned by the rather cursory Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive? Does it also monitor the waste produced in its facilities and in those of its suppliers?

Transport Has the company made any effort to replace air freight with more carbon-efficient road, rail or sea networks? Does it discuss CO2 emissions and efforts made to lower them?

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