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Cutting Your Computer’s Carbon Footprint

I love my computer. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without it. But computers don’t necessarily have the best of carbon footprints, particularly if they’re left on more than necessary.

Some of this is pretty easy to handle. Shutting down the computer AND remembering to turn off all accessories at night is a good idea. If this is a challenge, try getting a Smart Strip for your computer. This will shut down accessories whenever you shut your computer down.

For times when you may be more off and on the computer, you can adjust your power settings on Windows computers through the control panel. You can tell it when to go on standby or hibernate, depending on your preferences.

I would also note that it’s a good plan to just not turn on speakers, printers and so forth until you’re actually going to use them. For me this is obvious, as I print very rarely and prefer my computer to be quiet, but less obvious to others.

What About Replacements?

The real challenge can come when you aren’t sure whether or not to replace a computer or its parts. Many people get a new computer every couple years or less.

I don’t replace mine lightly. It’s 3 years old and going strong. My husband’s is (I think) a bit older yet. It’s a handmedown from my older sister, so I’m not quite certain of its age. It has enough power for what he needs a computer for, and that’s quite enough for us.

Sometimes all an older machine needs is some more RAM or a better hard drive. I’ve switched RAM out myself on a computer, and it’s not that hard, but it’s been a while and I can’t explain it. If in doubt, just have a professional do it.

Another way to help an ailing system is to do a virus scan, an antispyware scan, and remove all unnecessary programs, especially things you don’t use that run in the background. It’s amazing how much stuff can clutter up a good system and slow it down. I like Avast antivirus and SuperAntiSpyware… both free. But I would also note that my preferences change as the programs get changed, so do some research as you pick how you protect your computer. You should always have antivirus and antispyware protection on your computer.

Monitors can be a separate matter. A flat screen monitor is much more energy efficient than a CRT. It comes down to when is it right to replace it in consideration of the energy used to create each, as well as what happens to the old monitor after.

Disposal is a Challenge

This is one problem with computers that just hasn’t been properly solved yet. There are recycling programs out there, but you have to be careful. Some programs just ship the problem off to some other country, where the toxic materials aren’t properly handled. It’s a mess for the environment and for the people living in that toxic mess.

If the computer is still usable other ways, you may be able to donate it to a program that will refurbish it. Goodwill has a program at many locations, for example, and also offers instructions on how to get your personal data off the hard drive first. Contact your local Goodwill to be sure. Earth911 is another good resource.