What is green computing?

In the modern world, most of us use computing equipment on a daily basis at home or at work. So do you ever wonder about the environmental impact of all this computer usage? Or how the electricity costs related to computers affects your wallet or a company’s bottom line?
Abstract image of green globe on forest floor
Will turning off your laptop at night contribute to a sustainable future?
From giant data centers to your personal laptop, green computing is all about cutting energy consumption and recycling resources to build a more sustainable future.

Green computing: A definition

Green computing. Green IT. Green technology. The issues are multi-faceted, but it all comes down to using computers and related devices in a way that causes the least amount of harm to our environment and our planet. This starts with green design, which has to do with the choice of materials when developing devices that make efficient use of energy. Then there is green manufacturing, which means minimizing waste in the production of computers and reducing the environmental impact of these activities. This is followed by green usage, with includes minimizing the energy consumption of devices and especially data centers. And at the end of product life, there is green disposal: repurposing, recycling or appropriately disposing of computer equipment.

Why is green computing important?

Like many things that are essential to our modern lives, computers can cause a variety of negative environmental impacts. They consume a lot of energy, and often this energy is generated from non-renewable sources that cause greenhouse gas emissions. Computers and associated equipment can contain heavy metals and other hazardous materials that can cause pollution if not disposed of correctly. Green computing is an approach that attempts to prevent or mitigate these negative impacts – with the ultimate aim of promoting a more sustainable future. This has the added bonus of making computer usage more cost-effective by reducing the consumption of energy and other resources and cutting waste.

Green data centers

One important focus of green computing is data centers, which for example can house a company’s computer systems or the remote servers used for cloud computing services. Such data centers consume a lot of power, which not only impacts the environment, but also represents a huge overhead cost for companies. With this in mind, tech companies are now turning to renewable energy sources like wind energy, solar power, etc., to fuel their server farms – like the mail.com data center in Lenexa, which is powered by wind energy. Running large numbers of servers also generates huge amounts of heat, so more efficient cooling as well as heat recovery systems can also make a contribution to green computing. The recycling of computers and other devices is another area where businesses can have a major impact.

Green computing labels

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out one of the earliest energy efficiency initiatives in 1992. The Energy Star labeling program aims to promote more efficient energy use by computing hardware and many other types of products. Computers bearing the Energy Star label use 25 to 40 percent less energy than conventional models. Other countries and regions have initiated similar programs. Another label dating to 1992, for example, is Sweden’s TCO Certified mark. Originally focusing on the ergonomics of computer monitors, today it is a globally recognized ecological standard for computers. Consumers concerned with sustainable IT can use certifications like Energy Star and TOC to guide their purchasing decisions.

How can I cut my computer energy use?

If you are interested in greener computing, there are a lot of small steps that can add up to significant energy savings for you. In addition to buying green certified computer equipment, here are a few ideas you might want to try:
  • Turn off your devices. Putting them in standby mode is better than leaving them switched on, but devices in standby mode still account for 5 - 10 percent of residential energy use. Depending on energy prices where you live, turning off your computer when it’s not in use could save you $50 per year – and reduce your carbon footprint by 450 lbs.
  • Make your screens more energy efficient. Reducing monitor brightness also reduces energy consumption. OLED displays consume less energy than older CRT models, as does switching to dark mode or dark themes. (Plus these options can be easier on your eyes!)
  • If you need to print out documents, try to use environmentally friendly options. This doesn’t just mean making sure that your printer is energy efficient. You can also go for sustainable (low-VOC) inks and recycled paper – and get some refillable ink cartridges.
  • Save money and conserve resources by extending the life of your computer and other electronic devices for as long as possible. Keep in mind that takes a lot of energy and materials to manufacture new equipment.
  • If your computing equipment really has reached the end of its life, recycle or dispose of e-waste safely. Look for electronics recyclers who are certified by Responsible Recycling (R2) or e-Stewards ensure the proper disposal of your used devices.
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