Computing in the green. (environmental awareness in the computer industry) (column)
by Steven Anzovin
Working at your computer, you may feel smugly separate from nature, but maybe you and millions of other computer users are worsening the greenhouse effect, destroying the ozone layer, pouring toxic chemicals into the air and water, and creating thousands of tons of unrecyclable solid waste. If that thought concerns you, read on.
You may hear claims to the contrary, but the computer industry isn't inherently green. For example, in many plants, circuit boards are still cleaned with chlorofluorocarbons that damage the earth's ozone layer, so buy your computer components from companies that use a water-based process.
Computer retailers need to clean up their acts, too. If you order by mail, use companies that ship in recycled packaging without foam peanuts and bubble pack. PC Connection is one such company (6 Mill Street, Marlow, New Hampshire 03456; 800-243-8088). Put the squeeze on other vendors to do the same.
Every kilowatt hour of electricity you use adds more than two pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. The single best way to save juice and combat the greenhouse effect is turn off your equipment often. If you can't turn it off every time you leave your desk, at least turn off the monitor and printer. To save even more energy, use low-wattage fluorescent task lighting instead of incandescent.
Instead of buying a whole new computer, save plastic, metal, and packaging by getting your current hardware to do more for you. Enhance your computer's performance with an accelerator board. Buy internal modems, hard drives, and other components instead of external ones because they're composed of less material. Share seldom-used peripherials with another person, or rent them.
One idea I particularly like is file-compression software. Such programs (and optional compression boards) let you squeeze up to double the number of files on your current hard disk so you can put off buying a larger drive. One such program for the PC is Stacker from Stac Electronics (5993 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad, California 92008; 800-522-7822; $149, $229 with a compression board).
Do you really need to print that draft? Flip over some used sheets and print on the backs. Do a lot of faxing? Get a fax modem--it will save paper every time you send or receive a fax. A paper-saving print utility is DynoPage from Portfolio Systems (21 East Market Street, Rhineback, New York 12572; 914-876-7743; $125), currently available only for Macs. DynoPage lets you print reduced multiple pages on one sheet, but best of all, it prints consecutive pages on both sides of the paper, potentially cutting your paper use in half.
Keep a special recycling basket next to the computer to catch ruined print jobs, drafts, and perfories from tractor-fed paper. For fresh stock, use recycled paper when possible. A good-quality recycled paper can actually be better for laser printing since it's more flexible and less likely to warp when exposed to heat and stress. You can buy recycled computer paper at many computer stores. To order a wide assortment of recycled paper by mail, try PaperDirect (205 Chubb Avenue, Lyndhurst, New Jersey 07071; 800-272-7377).
Paper isn't the only consumable you can recycle. Check out the machines that reink printer ribbons and recharge laser toner cartridges. You can save quite a bit of money on printing. Floppies, of course, can be used again and again. When you're ready to upgrade, recycle the entire computer by selling it or donating it to a local school or charity. Most schools are desperate for computers. Most donations are tax-deductible at the computer's depreciated value. (The IRS considers computers to be fully depreciated after five years.)
Consider a used PC for your new machine, too. A slightly used 386SX/20 brandname PC can cost 40 percent less than the street price. Check with the Boston Computer Exchange (800-262-6399) or the National Computer Exchange (800-359-2468) for the latest prices.
Want to share your personal tips on green computing? Send your ideas to me at Box 2173, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002. If they're green enough, you'll see your name and idea in a future column.