Greening the family computer

 
 

Carolyn Jabs

If you are thinking about how to reduce your carbon footprint, look to your family computer.

For example, it can cut down on time spent driving by helping you comparison shop, identify sources for locally grown food and help you figure out what a carbon footprint actually is.

On the other side of the ledger, computers and other high-tech gadgets can also create environmental problems. Here are four ways to minimize the environmental impact created by the technology your family uses:

Buy wisely
Parents who won't buy toys or sippy cups containing toxic chemicals should take a hard look at materials used in the electronics they bring into the house. Unfortunately, the U.S. lags behind the European Union, which has tough standards limiting the amount of cadmium, lead and other toxic materials that can go into computers and other high-tech equipment.

To see how manufacturers measure up on the Electronic Product Environmental Tool, visit epeat.net. While you're at it, visit the Energystar Web site at to check the energy efficiency of new computer equipment-as well as cordless phones, VCRs and other electronic equipment.

Print less
Whenever possible, store things on your hard drive and skip the printing. When you do have to print, use recycled paper and try these thrifty ideas recommended by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:

  • Print on both sides of the paper. You can set your printer to do this automatically by going to "Properties" on the upper right side of the Print menu. Select "Features" and "Two-sided printing." Save on ink by selecting "Draft" in the set-up menu.
  • Teach kids to format rough drafts with narrower margins and smaller type so more goes on each page.
  • Preview final documents before printing so they won't need to be printed more than once.
  • When printing from Web sites, consider printing several pages on one sheet of paper. You can set your printer to do this by using the zoom function in the lower right corner of the Print menu.

Conserve kilowatts
Your parents probably lectured you about turning off lights. Today, parents need to teach kids the same lesson about electronic gadgets. Unfortunately, it's not always as easy as pressing the off button. Many gadgets stay in stand-by mode, consuming "phantom" power. Experts estimate that the average American home burns about 50 kilowatts of standby power an hour. Globally it accounts for about 1 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions.

Enlist your kids in conserving some of this wasted power. To make a game of it, gather everyone around and study your electric bill. Look for the number of kilowatts per hour (KWH) used each month. Figure out how much carbon dioxide your family produces by plugging that number into the carbon emissions calculator at carbonify.com.

Challenge your family to reduce that number. Start by going on an after-dark prowl around the house. Look for everything that's blinking and beaming. Don't forget to check the AC adapters for cell phones and other devices. If they are warm, they are drawing current and need to be unplugged.

At the end of the month, open the next electric bill together and see how well you've done.

Dispose carefully

Experts estimate that electronic gear makes up 70 percent of all hazardous waste. To minimize e-waste, think carefully about whether you can upgrade instead of replacing old equipment. When a device really has to go, try to find a new home for it on freecycle.org.
If nobody wants your old equipment, to find a responsible e-cycler, visit Digital Tips or the Basel Action Network.

As Kermit the Frog said, "It's not easy being green." Still, more families are taking up the challenge. Maybe that's because parents realize it's a lot easier to make earth-friendly changes today than asking our children to adjust to the ravages of climate change and other ecological imbalances in the future.

 
 





 
 
 
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