Sexy Green Geek: Part 1 – Reduce

By Mackenzie Morgan
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Are you a green geek? Would you like to be one? There’s always more we can do to help the environment, or at least reduce our environmental footprints. Tina at MakeUseOf wrote a really good article about the meaning of environmental footprint and mentioned a lot of great non-technical steps we can take to reduce ours. But what about us, geeks, living surrounded by machinery? What can we do? Well, the Green Festival was in Washington, DC recently, so I headed over and learned quite a bit while I was there. This is going to be a three-part series, focusing on the three parts of being environmentally friendly: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This one is focusing on reduction.

Purchasing Decisions

Power consumption is the biggest thing you can reduce. Of course, buying an Energy Star-certified computer is a great first step. But there’s a great deal more you can do. If you own many computers, how many of them do you really use at once? And how many are powered on at once? You probably don’t need more than one system. If you’ve got a few running different OSes and you need access to each and every one of them, you can always use VirtualBox to virtualize each system under a single machine.

Do you still use a big CRT monitor? Ever notice how they have a tendency to build up static electricity and shock you when you touch the screen? They use a lot of power. According to the LCD Industries Research Committee, switching from CRT to LCD means a significant reduction in power usage. That’s nice for the Earth, your wallet, and hey, you get a nice flatscreen. But don’t throw that old CRT away. There’s no reason for it to go into the landfill, and you’ll see why in part two of this article.

When You’re Gone

When you’re away from your computer, do you leave it on? Some instant messaging services have the ability to send you messages you missed while signed off. I believe AIM does this. Your email will be there when you get back, too. If you don’t want to lose the system state by shutting down, why not suspend or hibernate your computer? And when you walk away, instead of a CPU and GPU intensive screensaver, how about just letting the screen turn off? Remember, the days of CRT burn-in are long gone, so having a screensaver really isn’t necessary.

Last month, Kiltak wrote here about phantom power, the usage of electricity by appliances which are turned off. Your computer is one of those appliances, and since it is probably plugged into a power strip / surge protector, why not switch the strip off when you’re not using your system? This will prevent it from gobbling all that energy uselessly

While You Work

There are plenty of other ways to lower your computer’s power consumption while you’re using it. The less your CPU is doing, the less power it’s drawing. Turn off any CPU-instensive tasks running in the background. If you use a laptop, try switching to a wired internet connection at home, and turn off your wireless card (many laptops have a hardware kill-switch for wireless). The wireless card, even when it’s just scanning for beacons from nearby access points, is a major power drain.

One thing I don’t understand is keeping the lights on at night when on the computer. My mom would always ask why I’m sitting in the dark, but really, the screen lights up, so why should I need another source of light? If the bright screen in a dark room hurts your eyes a bit (I admit, it can be like staring at a lightbulb), well, take advantage of this next idea: lower the brightness settings on your monitor. I find that having the brightness set to about half of what my laptop screen can do feels about right.

Intel created Less Watts so they could share power-saving tips with Linux users. Yahoo! Tech has some other tips for Windows as well.

On the Go

Oh, and here’s a nice gift idea for a geek-on-the-go: solar power. There are certain electronics that you really use the most when away from the desk, like an iPod or a PDA. Well, you can use Solar Style’s Solar Charger to charge any of those small electronics. At $45, it’s not really a bad price. And as of this writing, it’s on sale on top of that. If you want to be able to charge those gadgets while you’re carrying them in your bag, try Noon Solar‘s solar-charger purses and messenger bags. Also, if you’re carrying a laptop, PDA or some other electronic device with you all the time, why print anything out? Just save the document to your device, and you can help save a lot of trees.

Geek Fuel

Hey, and why not try to lower your own usage while we’re at it? When you’re sitting there, chowing down in front of the computer, try eating more eco-friendly food. Try to avoid foods that come wrapped in plastic, paper, etc. Papers contaminated with food waste, such as pizza boxes, cannot be recycled. How about some locally grown fruit instead? A diet that focuses more on veggies and less on meat will also reduce your environmental footprint.

Reduce your Carbon Footprint and Save Money

The Daily Green has an excellent guide listing 30 ways you can save money by going green! Check it out!

What other ways have you tried to reduce your consumption? Do you have a minimum lifespan for electronics before replacing them?

Ready for part II? Keep on reading: Sexy Green Geek: Part 2 – Reuse

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37 Responses to Sexy Green Geek: Part 1 – Reduce

  1. Doesn’t turning the switch off on a power strip that doubles as a surge protector disable the surge protection? I was always given the impression that if the switch is off you are unprotected.

    • I thought it always protected based on the circuitry, but on further investigation, you’re right. That would make it stop protecting. In that case, having everything plugged into one power strip still makes it easier to simply unplug one power strip and in the process unplug 6-10 devices. Unplugging them all individually is annoying.

    • The switch IS the surge protection. It “flips” off when there is a surge. But, still a good question. Knowing is half the battle.

  2. Doesn't turning the switch off on a power strip that doubles as a surge protector disable the surge protection? I was always given the impression that if the switch is off you are unprotected.

    • I thought it always protected based on the circuitry, but on further investigation, you’re right. That would make it stop protecting. In that case, having everything plugged into one power strip still makes it easier to simply unplug one power strip and in the process unplug 6-10 devices. Unplugging them all individually is annoying.

    • The switch IS the surge protection. It "flips" off when there is a surge. But, still a good question. Knowing is half the battle.

  3. Fantastic article !

    Being a green geek myself (with a blog on sustainable development and climate change) I only found one idea on reduction that isn’t in this article.

    The heat in a geek’s room can be important. turning it down a bit during the winter can enable to save major amounts of energy.

    For each degree Celsius down, it is reported you save 7 percent on your heating bills.

    So, if you wore previously a tee shirt in mid winter, lower your room’s temperature and wear a sweater.

    Hope this helps ! Meanwhile, I look forward to reading the second part ;)

  4. Fantastic article !

    Being a green geek myself (with a blog on sustainable development and climate change) I only found one idea on reduction that isn't in this article.

    The heat in a geek's room can be important. turning it down a bit during the winter can enable to save major amounts of energy.

    For each degree Celsius down, it is reported you save 7 percent on your heating bills.

    So, if you wore previously a tee shirt in mid winter, lower your room's temperature and wear a sweater.

    Hope this helps ! Meanwhile, I look forward to reading the second part ;)

  5. As I was looking unto the power surge issue, I noticed that there are some power-saving power strips out there..

    these power strips have a sensor, and if they detect that a power socket falls into standby or off mode (less than 30 watts, they shut off that socket automatically…

  6. Great article. I use a power strip for my computers and chargers already, but after I read this I just plugged in my laptop to my router and switched off my wireless, thanks for the tip

  7. As I was looking unto the power surge issue, I noticed that there are some power-saving power strips out there..

    these power strips have a sensor, and if they detect that a power socket falls into standby or off mode (less than 30 watts, they shut off that socket automatically…

  8. Great article. I use a power strip for my computers and chargers already, but after I read this I just plugged in my laptop to my router and switched off my wireless, thanks for the tip

  9. Want to go green? Then give up your computers. Given all the petroleum products and energy required to build and design them, HUGE environmental impact!

    • Hey, I asked about a minimum lifespan for computers. Some people think they need a new one every year (no idea why), and most companies think they need to replace them all every 3 years (again, no idea why), but as far as I’m concerned, if it works, it is not to be sent to dump. And even if it doesn’t work, it can be fixed, or something can be done with it. That’s what Parts 2 and 3 will be about.

      Besides, getting rid of the computers we already have (without doing anything useful with the parts) would be more wasteful. Simply not buying 5 computers to begin with when one will suffice (as mentioned above) is a better idea.

      • I have 2 laptops… My primary computer is a 5+ year old Powerbook G4. It still runs beautifully, but, I have the other laptop for things like Hulu that won’t run on this machine. And let’s face it, I got a super awesome black Friday deal on the other laptop.

        Now if only Linux would run on that machine and allow me to get out of Vista hell. Damn Phoenix “windows only” BIOS. (Seriously, the computer runs like hell in anything other than Windows Vista, and even then it runs like crap because it’s Windows Vista.)

        -Adam

  10. Want to go green? Then give up your computers. Given all the petroleum products and energy required to build and design them, HUGE environmental impact!

    • Hey, I asked about a minimum lifespan for computers. Some people think they need a new one every year (no idea why), and most companies think they need to replace them all every 3 years (again, no idea why), but as far as I'm concerned, if it works, it is not to be sent to dump. And even if it doesn't work, it can be fixed, or something can be done with it. That's what Parts 2 and 3 will be about.

      Besides, getting rid of the computers we already have (without doing anything useful with the parts) would be more wasteful. Simply not buying 5 computers to begin with when one will suffice (as mentioned above) is a better idea.

      • I have 2 laptops… My primary computer is a 5+ year old Powerbook G4. It still runs beautifully, but, I have the other laptop for things like Hulu that won't run on this machine. And let's face it, I got a super awesome black Friday deal on the other laptop.

        Now if only Linux would run on that machine and allow me to get out of Vista hell. Damn Phoenix "windows only" BIOS. (Seriously, the computer runs like hell in anything other than Windows Vista, and even then it runs like crap because it's Windows Vista.)

        -Adam

  11. All the suggestions make a ton of sense. Very helpful. I find myself making sure that the kids at home turn off their electronics when not in use. Sometimes a challenge.

    Google Chrome seems to be far less of a CPU hog as well as Google Docs.

    I am looking for a tool to keep track of my personal carbon footprint if anyone can help. I think I am doing all the right things but it would be good to have one reference place to show the contribution.

  12. All the suggestions make a ton of sense. Very helpful. I find myself making sure that the kids at home turn off their electronics when not in use. Sometimes a challenge.

    Google Chrome seems to be far less of a CPU hog as well as Google Docs.

    I am looking for a tool to keep track of my personal carbon footprint if anyone can help. I think I am doing all the right things but it would be good to have one reference place to show the contribution.

  13. Just because they’re old doesn’t mean they can’t be just as useful as they were when they were new. My mom’s 7 year old computer isn’t good enough for email and word processing, the two most common tasks in an office environment? Yeah right. It could handle email and word processing 7 years ago, and of course it still can now. It’s not like they get slower over time!

    • true true. my (not sure, maybe 14-16 year old) compaq still runs very well. plays old 256 color graphics games and the productivity software that came with it. i even found some old DRAM sticks and upgraded it :) other one is newer. maybe 2004 or so my dad uses it for quickbooks, word processing, and internet. had the motherboard replaced a couple years ago and it was good as new! the problem is our throw-away society where people don't want to bother fixing things, if it doesn't work throw it away and buy another. and the computers indeed don't get slower, the software just gets bigger and takes more resources but really doesn't do much more than look pretty is what it seems like. have you seen the GAS post about software bloat? look for it.

  14. Just because they're old doesn't mean they can't be just as useful as they were when they were new. My mom's 7 year old computer isn't good enough for email and word processing, the two most common tasks in an office environment? Yeah right. It could handle email and word processing 7 years ago, and of course it still can now. It's not like they get slower over time!

  15. I love the idea of solar power. I have a friend who uses solar batteries for pretty much everything – a light bulb, charging his mobile phone, etc. And I love the idea myself!

  16. I love the idea of solar power. I have a friend who uses solar batteries for pretty much everything – a light bulb, charging his mobile phone, etc. And I love the idea myself!

  17. Just wondering if services like http://www.blackle.com are a useful contribution to a smaller ecological footprint?

    And considering gadgets that need constant charging: there are several mobile phones and mp3 players that can be charged by plugging it in on your computer's USB-port. Not sure if that drains more energy, but at least it's another charger less to dispose.

    In general, take good care of your stuff, think before you buy (do you really need that new phone?) and repair if possible.

    Nice article, looking forward to the follow-up!

  18. Just wondering if services like http://www.blackle.com are a useful contribution to a smaller ecological footprint?

    And considering gadgets that need constant charging: there are several mobile phones and mp3 players that can be charged by plugging it in on your computer's USB-port. Not sure if that drains more energy, but at least it's another charger less to dispose.

    In general, take good care of your stuff, think before you buy (do you really need that new phone?) and repair if possible.

    Nice article, looking forward to the follow-up!

  19. Blackle only has a lower consumption if you're using an old CRT screen, and even then it's minimal. With LCDs, regardless what color is displayed, the backlight has to be on. It actually makes more sense, IMO, to use black-on-white since that's easier to read with the screen dimmed than white-on-black is.

    Also, the followups were already posted. This is a rather old post ;)

  20. Blackle only has a lower consumption if you’re using an old CRT screen, and even then it’s minimal. With LCDs, regardless what color is displayed, the backlight has to be on. It actually makes more sense, IMO, to use black-on-white since that’s easier to read with the screen dimmed than white-on-black is.

    Also, the followups were already posted. This is a rather old post ;)

  21. One thing I noticed as I was installing all the mobo software for the new system I put together is that my mobo will actually reduce the speed and voltage of my CPU as the needs decrease, thus using less power. I am not sure how common this is, but I thouight it was pretty cool. It seems that the “resting” state of the cpu is 800mhz (it’s a quad core 3ghz processor). I don’t recall what the resting voltage is. I usually set the hard drive and the monitor to shut off after an hour of non-use. This allows for watching something that is long and not having to worry about getting interrupted while watching my favorite TV show on Hulu ;-) I don;t particular care for sleep or hibernate after bad previous expereinces with it, though I am sure they have fixed all of that by now.

  22. One thing I noticed as I was installing all the mobo software for the new system I put together is that my mobo will actually reduce the speed and voltage of my CPU as the needs decrease, thus using less power. I am not sure how common this is, but I thouight it was pretty cool. It seems that the "resting" state of the cpu is 800mhz (it's a quad core 3ghz processor). I don't recall what the resting voltage is. I usually set the hard drive and the monitor to shut off after an hour of non-use. This allows for watching something that is long and not having to worry about getting interrupted while watching my favorite TV show on Hulu ;-) I don;t particular care for sleep or hibernate after bad previous expereinces with it, though I am sure they have fixed all of that by now.

  23. On the topic of purchasing decisions – buying used equipment is a great way to go green (and help your pocket book at the same time). Since there are people out there who offload perfectly good machines and components, there’s a vibrant market for secondhand electronics.

    Every piece of e-waste that you keep out of the landfill makes the world a better place. And, if it displaces stuff that you were going to go buy brand-new, that’s a double win.

  24. On the topic of purchasing decisions – buying used equipment is a great way to go green (and help your pocket book at the same time). Since there are people out there who offload perfectly good machines and components, there's a vibrant market for secondhand electronics.

    Every piece of e-waste that you keep out of the landfill makes the world a better place. And, if it displaces stuff that you were going to go buy brand-new, that's a double win.

  25. There are lots of ways to be green and help our environment. If you are using a laptop with a good battery, why not try to unplug your laptop and use the battery instead for an hour or till your battery runs out, this way, you save on electric power and its healthy for your battery to be drained once in a while.

  26. I am one for leaving my computer on even after I have finished working. At times I leave my home and the computer is still on. This is really something I am going to focus more on stopping in the future.