We hear about it every night on the news: the world is in an energy crisis, greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise, global warming is a serious problem. You’ve tried to be a part of a solution by recycling, carpooling when possible, and observing ozone action days. But have you ever thought about your computer? Just by changing a few simple actions, you can help improve energy management, increase energy efficiency, and reduce waste.
Computers are among the most commonly used of electronic devices, with people employing them every day for work, research, entertainment, shopping, and balancing their checkbooks. So it’s important to understand how they affect our environment, especially since computers account for a relatively large portion of our electrical consumption—2% nationwide, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
A conventional PC system consists of the central processing unit (CPU), a monitor, and, in many cases, a printer. Most college campuses have computing centers comprising multiple computers. In addition, most students have computers in their rooms. Faculty members have computers in their offices and staff personnel have computers on their desk. Even some classrooms and laboratories have computers.
Consider this: an average Dell desktop requires 85 watts just to idle, even with the monitor off. If that computer is only in use or idling for 40 hours a week instead of a full 168, over $40 in energy costs will be saved annually from that workstation alone. Imagine if this savings were multiplied by thousands of computers across campus; the savings could be immense.
At the University of Michigan there are over 30,000 computers. (According to U-M ITCom, there are an estimated 40,000 devices on campus. This estimate assumes 70% of these devices are personal computers (excluding switches, servers, etc). An additional 2,000 computers are estimated to be operating under the aegis of the College of Engineering, based on 850 lab computers and as many faculty/staff. U-M Health System computers are not part of this estimate.)
If they were all left on year round, we would pay over $1.8 million annually in electricity costs alone. (Based on 85 watts per desktop sans monitor and a utility rate of 8.3¢/kWh.)
Efficient Computer Operation
The most effective way to conserve energy is to turn your computer off when you aren’t using it. Beyond this obvious solution:
Buying New Equipment
Here are some things to consider before purchasing a new computer:
The Paper Chase
When computers first became popular, many thought they would revolutionize the modern-day workplace and usher in the “paperless office.” In most offices, however, it would seem that this has yet to take place, and it is not yet proven that paper consumption has decreased in any appreciable amount. Billions of memos, letters, reports, rough drafts, and final documents are created every year on the PC. Printed, they use a lot of paper. In 2005, the University of Michigan recycled 3,600 tons of paper, and more than 29,000 tons since 1990. Each ton of paper requires anywhere from 12 to 24 trees to produce, depending on the type of paper. (Read more about paper production at the conservatree.org website.
What can you do to reduce paper waste? One way to save paper is to determine if you really need a hard copy of the document, or if it is something that can be passed along electronically. With Internet connectivity, much of the information that needs to be shared can be transmitted without printing it.
Another way you can save on paper is to re-use it. Paper that has been printed on has a blank side. You can use that blank side to jot notes, messages, and to make lists of things to do.
Recycling can also help reduce the impact that computers have on energy usage. You can recycle:
Fact or Fiction?
Using a screen saver saves my monitor and/or energy. Fiction: Screen saver programs (including a blank screen saver) were designed to prevent burn-in of the phosphorescent coating on the inside of a CRT screen, thus giving it a longer life. LCDs are far less susceptible to burn-in than CRTs. The best choice for your monitor and your energy bill is to have it automatically turn off after a reasonable period of inactivity.
Turning my computer off and on reduces the life of the hard drive. Fiction: This was true for early computer equipment (pre-early 1990s), but in practice turning your computer off and on will not have any noticeable effect on the hard drive.
I can use blank sides of paper to print on for a draft copy. Fact and Fiction: Yes, you can certainly do this, and it does save paper very effectively. A cautionary note for users of laser printers: microscopic bits of toner can flake off from the printed side of the paper as it goes through the printer the second time. This toner can build up inside the printer over time and may shorten the printer’s life.
Now that you have the facts about green computing, share your knowledge with friends, family, and co-workers. With everyone’s cooperation, we can reduce waste and cost and conserve our valuable natural resources. If we become aware of the effect our computer usage has on the environment, we can alter our behavior for the better. If we conserve energy we save money, all the while practicing responsible stewardship of the planet.
Content modified: Apr 22, 2013