Friday, September 5, 2008


5 september 2008
Going green with IT use
Door: Jonny Evans

If rising food and fuel prices aren't convincing enough, there's a world of good reasons to be a little more conscious of the cost of running your Mac.
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We know global temperatures have climbed 0.8 degrees Celsius since the start of the industrial revolution. We know the polar ice caps are shrinking and cataclysmic climatic events -- such as Hurricane Katrina, Burma's Cyclone Nargis, and the recent flooding in China that forced a million people from their homes -- are increasing in frequency.

But what's this got to do with you and your Mac? Well, ball-park estimates suggest there are one billion computers in use worldwide, sucking an estimated 2.4 billion kilowatt-hours of energy each day. The average nuclear power station generates about 12.4 billion kilowatt-hours per year. Gartner last year estimated the IT industry accounts for approximately 2 percent of CO2 emissions, making the industry as bad as air travel.

Most power is generated using fossil fuels, which also create CO2 emissions, cause climate change, damage ecosystems and endanger the livelihood of millions.

Former US vice president and Apple board member, Al Gore, said in his film An Inconvenient Truth: "We're facing a global crisis and action is required." What can you, just one Mac user, do? You can think global, but act local.

1. How can I save power?

Keep it simple: switch things off. And take the plug out. Many household appliances continue to consume energy when they're turned off: TVs, Macs, and mobile phone, iPod and camera chargers cost the average household an extra £50 (US$87) per year in electricity by being plugged in, but not used. And such waste pushes around 18 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

One solution is a multi-socket power strip with its own power cut-out technology, such as those sold by OneClick Technologies ( under the Intellipanel range.

Your Mac has an off button, too. Use it. Also, beware the Apple TV -- this constantly scans and syncs content with your Mac, and may be worth unplugging when not in use.

Change your electricity supplier. There's a growing number of energy firms claiming to offer 100 percent green electricity. Find out who can help you at You'll save money and reduce your environmental impact, too.

Going shopping? Look for products with energy-saving labels, such as the widely used Energy Star label. Be sure to check Epeat assessments on products you're eyeing up (

All new Macs ship with OS X's Energy Save feature turned on. Apple estimates Macs use 77 percent less energy in low-power mode. You can save more energy by navigating to the Energy Saver preference panel and adjusting the settings there. You'll see two options, one for the monitor, the other for the computer. Bear in mind that background processes (exporting video into different formats, for example) will cease when your Mac is shut down, so you may want to set your display to go dark long before you ask the computer to stop. A screen saver isn't an energy saver -- your Mac's display consumes as much energy displaying the screen saver as it does when in normal use.

2. How can I reduce my carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint reflects the damage your actions and lifestyle create in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. Climate change is the result of a build up of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide (CO2), in the atmosphere. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2001 said: "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

Travel contributes to your carbon footprint. Air travel is the most damaging. Do you need to make that trip? Use iChat, conference calls and video feeds to help reduce business trips.

Businesses should consider teleworking. Defined targets boost personal responsibility, ease congestion, reduce the carbon footprint and increase productivity. Executives face increasing pressure from customers, employees and business partners to become responsible corporate citizens -- remote working can be part of the matrix for change.

Long-distance collaboration is possible. Leopard's Back To My Mac, iChat document sharing, or Google Docs all show the way.

Business users should look to carbon offsetters such as The Clean Planet Trust ( to offset emissions, though the UK government is currently drawing up a code of practice for such schemes, as some have proved to be bogus or misleading.

Think lights: a recent Greenpeace study claimed that consistent use of energy efficient lighting, including energy-saving bulbs, would make 85 coal-fired power stations redundant worldwide, slicing 500 million tons off annual CO2 emissions -- more CO2 than Canada produces in a year.

A symbolic gesture at a private or corporate level -- and a nice one -- is to plant trees. One broad leaf tree absorbs about 730kg of CO2 in its life, but it's estimated each person in the UK needs to save ten times that each year to meet current targets for CO2 reductions. UK reseller the Square Group now plants a tree each time it sells an iPod or Mac (

3. What are the green laws?

The International Energy Agency expects global energy demand to double by 2050. In 2005, EU estimates indicated the average EU citizen produces 17 to 20 kilograms of electronic waste (e-waste) each year.

The drive to energy efficiency and the urgent need to protect the planet through provision of efficient recycling schemes has driven implementation of some legislation designed to limit the damage caused by consumer electronics device manufacture, use and disposal. In Europe, principal rules include the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive. While these don't directly impact Mac users, they do mean Apple has been forced to dispense with the use of damaging substances in computer design, including lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, poly-brominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

One of the initial consequences of the RoHS directive coming into effect was Apple's move to end European sales of AirPort Base Stations, eMacs and iSight cameras in June 2006. Apple then introduced re-designed Base Stations that dispensed with the banned substances in manufacture, integrated web cameras within most Macs and abandoned CRT displays.

WEEE forces electrical equipment manufacturers to finance the treatment, recovery and safe disposal of old kit. Until its implementation, most electronic waste ended up in landfills or was incinerated without being treated; meaning pollutants could enter air, water and soil. Recycling schemes must provide evidence of the amount of electrical waste they have handled and treated to a government-appointed settlement center. UK local authorities can also recover the costs of such recycling from manufacturers, meaning you can approach your local authority to request disposal of your old computer and other electrical devices. This also means local authorities are more likely to prosecute those who dump their old computers in the street.

4. What can I do with my old kit?

Beyond the Mac, or any old Windows PCs you may still have lingering around the home, mobile phones, games consoles, televisions, even white goods, should be properly recycled when they reach the end of their useful life. An estimated one million tons of waste electronic and electrical equipment are discarded by UK households and businesses every year, according to WasteWatch. Under the WEEE and RoHS laws, local authorities must already offer collection or take-back schemes for such goods, financed by manufacturers. Contact your council to find out about your local scheme.

Just because you need to upgrade your Mac doesn't mean it's of no use to anyone else. It could have a new lease of life with a friend or a member of your family.

Since 1996 the market for refurbished computers has increased by 500 percent, but still less than 20 percent of all discarded UK computers are recycled (WasteWatch).

The second-hand Mac trade on eBay remains strong: a 500MHz G3 iBook should fetch around £160; while a first-generation iMac could fetch up to £50.

Your local charity shop is crying out for sellable items, so why not donate your old IT kit. You'll feel good and help raise some cash for charity. Also consider computer reuse projects, such as Computer Aid ( that distributes machines to schools in developing countries. Also services such as helps you give away your unwanted electrical items.

Be warned: when disposing of a computer be sure to erase the hard drive using Disk Utility, using the Security Options feature to overwrite the drive 7-35 times to prevent others from recovering your data.

Why not give your old Mac a new job? Perhaps it can be relegated to running your iTunes library or connected to your TV and used as a media center.

5. How can I make my office environmentally friendly?

Setting the thermostat a little lower in winter and a little higher in summer and switching off your (energy efficient) lights and computers when the office shuts are positive steps, but a lowest-cost focus when purchasing may also be a false economy.

Gartner analyst Frances O'Brien observes: "Organizations need to take a more considered approach to their asset and waste management from the very beginning, and plan for equipment disposal at the time of purchase. Purchasing environmentally preferable products that have less-negative effects on the environment as well as consuming and disposing of less equipment should be a key goal for organizations and individuals around the world."

Home working fits many businesses today. It immediately reduces the environmental impact and also minimizes the carbon footprint of your workforce by freeing them from the daily commute.

If you're searching for office space, consider taking space inside the new breed of pioneering developments, such as Gallions Park in London, Green Park in Reading or the Southampton district energy scheme. The basic aim of these is to provide "Zero Emission" spaces for the same cost as standard developments.

It's not just in the south, City of York Council took a bronze award at the International Green Apple Awards 2008 for the Built Environment and Architectural Heritage, for its new Danesgate Skills Centre, built using sustainable materials and bio-fuelled.

When purchasing equipment, consider Energy Star rankings. For example, if you're looking for storage solutions, consider the Newer Technology Guardian MAXimus eMAX, a 1TB system which provides a 15 percent power savings and up to 50 percent power reduction in comparison to other solutions on the market.

6. How can I use less paper?

Just 30-40 percent of the 40 million inkjet and toner cartridges sold in the UK in 2003 were recycled. The Environmental Protection Agency warns that one toner cartridge requires a gallon of oil to create. Envirowise estimates UK businesses throw away five million tons of paper each year. What can be done to reduce this waste?

Think before you print Do you really need to print that document or email? Why not add a slogan to your signature to suggest others don't print your emails?

Duplex when possible It may sound obvious, but if you must print or copy, make sure you use both sides of a piece of paper.

Don't print more than you need Always check the Page Preview function to ensure you don't accidentally waste paper, especially when you're printing web pages.

Print in draft mode Pick the lowest-quality setting and you'll use less ink.

PDF instead Rather than print to paper print to PDF and archive important documents and other correspondence.

Use recycled paper Purchase recycled paper where you can.

Email only If you haven't already, replace your paper-based communications with email.

Recycle Get your office a recycling bin -- and shred important documents.

Re-manufacture Don't bin those print and toner cartridges, recycle them. Under terms of the WEEE directive, manufacturers must offer take-back of their e-waste, so check with them to find out what recycling options they offer you.

7. What nasty materials should we avoid?

Many materials traditionally used to manufacture computers are environmentally threatening -- most computers from pre-2006 contain some or all of the following, which is why proper recycling is essential.

Arsenic Extremely poisonous, arsenic is used in LCD displays to prevent defects and can leak into ecosystems during product manufacture and disposal.

Beryllium Metal, lighter than aluminium, stronger than steel, excellent electrical conductor, historically used in motherboards -- and a cause of fatal lung disease.

Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) Brominated chemicals stop materials catching fire. However, they're toxic, don't degrade and can accumulate in animals and humans. Worse, harmful compounds derived from these can be released in normal use.

Flux A chemical reaction during soldering. In high concentrations it can cause dizziness, unconsciousness and death.

Hexavalent Chromium, Cadmium, Lead All are extremely toxic, which is why their use in consumer electronics products is heavily regulated under Europe's WEEE directive.

Mercury Extremely toxic, mercury is commonly used in flat screen displays and has been used in switches, batteries and relays in the past.

Phthalates Chemicals used to soften plastics, such as PVC. Many are toxic, some damage both male and female reproductive systems as they enter the food chain.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) A cheap, rigid yet flexible plastic, manufacture requires hazardous raw materials which are explosive, highly toxic and carcinogenic and generate hazardous waste.

8. How do I get involved?

It's time for action. Former US presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton has called climate change the modern equivalent of the space race, warning: "The negative economic consequences of climate change will affect every part of (the US), virtually every sector of our economy, and strain our local governments, cost jobs, and extract a horrific human toll."

Research continues to suggest the pace of climate change is speeding up. Failure to act now will leave the next generation with major problems. Along with changing our own habits, what can we do to force business and government to meet the challenge?

Think green Don't buy over-packaged products. Research products to find out what their manufacturer's environmental record is. Force change through ethical consuming (

Check Many companies claim to be green, but before purchasing products and services from them ask them for a written breakdown of their green claims, and keep the evidence.

Write If there's one piece of paper worth printing, it's a letter to manufacturers urging them to commit to greener internal policies. Companies take letters extremely seriously because it takes an effort to write one. Beyond the letter, Greenpeace activists recently returned electronic waste to Philips' head offices worldwide, urging the company to launch a global voluntary take-back scheme.

Be heard Contact your local authorities and MP. This is so much easier than it used to be now you can do it online at

Protest Join Greenpeace or another green-focused group. Greenpeace has always fought hard for the environment, even before these matters became mainstream. Public pressure works.

Ask for more Greenpeace notes Apple's MacBook Air exceeds European standards and "raises the bar for the rest of the industry". "The real reason this happened is because thousands of Apple fans told Steve they want a greener Apple. You made it happen." Make it happen.

The last word...

Climate change is no longer seen as a maverick topic, instead it has emerged as the defining challenge of our time. This legitimacy is relatively recent, which is why activists, such as Greenpeace's 'Green My Apple' campaign, have been essential in motivating Apple to increase its green initiatives, with the recently released MacBook Air one of the greenest computers around. Individuals can always react to, and push for, change faster than any large enterprise or government body.

It's essential to understand the complexities of environmentally responsible computing. It's not enough -- though it is a start -- just to switch things off when you're not using them. Green awareness demands taking an interest at all levels of the computer industry, from the way we use our Mac to the way the machine is manufactured.

This awareness also needs to include distribution, usage, what's done when a computer's not in use, and what happens to equipment at the end of its life.

Without your support -- from turning out the lights to limiting your printing -- no amount of green initiatives from government or industry can solve the climate crisis. The most essential element, the key enabler for success in any attempt to protect the environment is you, and what you want from your future.

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