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