As laptop users, we're conspicuous consumers not only in the computer marketplace, but in energy usage as well. It's true laptops use a fraction of the energy of desktops (15 watts versus about 130), but all you have to do is multiply that times 100 million laptops — a very conservative estimate of how many units were sold in 2010. Then, between recycling issues, power drain and bad usage habits, you get a clearer picture of their massive environmental impact.
Here's the good news: All sorts of ways exist to reduce laptop waste and power consumption. This week, Green Dad takes a look at 10 ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your PC or Mac, often while saving some cash in the process. Here's hoping that computes just fine for you.
1) Fade to Blackle. It's one of those things we like to think started at a hipster coffee shop in Seattle: the theory that a dark computer background uses less power than a light one, which led to Blackle. This Heap Media creation basically takes the all-white Google search engine page and paints it black. As the Heap folks put it, "In January 2007 a blog post titled 'Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year' proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy. ... We believe that there is value in the concept, because even if the energy savings are small, they add up. Secondly we feel that seeing Blackle every time we load our web browser reminds us that we need to keep taking steps to save energy."
In other words, even if the savings are measured in microwatts, all those black computer screens make a difference. Learn more about Blackle and how to take the plunge here.
2) Try energy-saving programs. The makers of Granola have developed a software solution that claims to cut power consumption on PCs without sacrificing a shred of performance. It also tells you how much energy you have saved in terms of kilowatts, money, CO2 and CPU energy. For Mac users, there's Power Manager, which you can try in a free 30-day trial. These programs streamline how your CPU accesses and runs software programs, leading to optimized performance.
3) Beat that power vampire with a strip. As many electronics users know, the AC adapter for a device continues to hold and draw a small amount of power, even when the device is turned off. Known as the "vampire effect," this can lead to waste that adds up over time. The Smart Strip LCG3 Energy Saving Power Strip currently costs $31.49 at Amazon, almost 40% off retail. With its 10 outlets, the Smart Strip automatically shuts down power to your computer and electronics when not in use, which not only helps the environment but also makes shutting down systems fast.
4) PC users: Consider an HP. Among all computer makers, HP gets the highest marks from Greenpeace for curbing its use of PVCs and BFRs, chemicals that harm the environment. According to the Greenpeace ratings on technology companies and their use of toxins, "HP now has many PVC- and BFR-free products on the market, including a desktop PC with PVC-free power supply, several series of notebooks, another desktop and two LCD monitors. It has also recently launched the first PVC-free printer," the group says.
5) PC users: Consider a Lenovo ThinkPad420. GreenTech Pastures blogger Heather Clancy spotlights this model as winning the first Gold Rating under the UL Environment Sustainable Production Certification. The model should be out before the month ends, and it earned its high marks in part for its mix of post-consumer recycled content and an easy-to-disassemble frame that makes it easy to recycle, too.
6) Use the USB One-Touch Button Power Saver. Here's a device so easy to grasp, I wish I'd thought of it. This button plugs into a USB slot and allows you to put your computer to sleep with one touch. At $13, it's ideal for a quick power save during that lunch break or bathroom pit stop.
7) Reboot with solar laptop chargers. While these devices aren't cheap — some run more than $700 — solar laptop chargers can prove quite the eco-boon to those who lug their laptops outdoors for long periods of time or to those with a serious commitment to eco-friendly computing. Treehugger.com recently assembled a thorough roundup of the chargers it likes best, including the mighty Voltaic Generator, which at $499 doubles as a recycled computer carrying case. This baby earned a Top 10 Green Product designation from Popular Mechanics.
8) Add more RAM. It's common sense, but you'd be surprised how any users forget that adding more RAM (or random access memory) to your computer will make it run better and last longer. With PCs, for example, Windows works faster and spares your hard disk because it needs less virtual memory. But to keep computers cheap, many manufacturers ship laptops with the least amount of RAM they can. So get your machine looked at and ramp up that RAM to the max.
9) Do your basic maintenance. Like a car with bald tires and dull spark plugs, your laptop will waste power if you don't check out to the basics. Are the battery contacts free of dirt? Are you running the most up-to-date software available for your operating system? Have you defragmented your hard drive, repairing all those loose bits of data? I schedule maintenance on my MacBook Pro at least twice a year, and I've seen big benefits in increased performance and leaner energy usage.
10) Turn on your USB notebook light. This tip may seem counterintuitive, but hooking a small, energy-saving notebook light to your computer (like this one at Amazon.com) will allow you to turn down all those blazing house or office lights while you work. Here's the skinny, and it's really skinny: This device uses 1 measly watt of power at 0.03 amps. For eco-champs looking for a bright idea, it's the literal version of the bulb lighting up in your brain.