We all love our computers. We take them for granted. Few of us stop to consider the affects these ubiquitous machines have on the environment. On one hand, they greatly reduce our paper use and waste. Email, word processors, and countless other applications have certainly spared many a tree an unpleasant encounter with a chainsaw.
On the other hand, computers and their various accompaniments greatly increase our energy consumption. In the workplace, the cumulative carbon mouseprint is significant. In addition, businesses see considerably larger energy bills, increasing overhead. With a bit of conscious effort to cut back on computer-related energy consumption, your company becomes more environmentally friendly and enjoys notable savings on the electric bill. Corporate responsibility and reduced operating expenses: it’s a win-win.
To Turn it Off or Not to Turn it Off?
While computers do experience a small surge in energy consumption when turned on, it isn’t nearly enough to excuse leaving them on all the time. The US Department of Energy recommends personal computers be turned off when not in use for at least 2 hours. This doesn’t make sense in most offices, though. Even if computers go unused this long, employees would lose productivity waiting for computers to boot up all the time. However, it’s reasonable to shut down computers if they go unused for at least 4 hours. Always shut down computers, printers, scanners, fax machines, copiers, and other office machines when the workday is over. That’s just good advice for the longevity of your hardware, too.
Turn Off the Rest and Make Some Upgrades
There’s no reason monitors, external speakers, printers, and other peripherals can’t be shut off. It’s more energy-efficient to turn these components off when not in use for 20 minuter or longer. If your company still has CRT monitors, it’s time for an upgrade; Cornell University reports that LCD monitors use 40 percent less energy than CRTs of the same size. And speaking of energy-efficient upgrades, consider outfitting the office with laptops. These run on about half the energy of desktops. Opt for Energy Star-certified models.
Go to Sleep
All the computers in your office have a power-down or sleep mode setting, and many also have a hibernation mode. Newer computers run on up to 70 percent and 90 percent less energy respectively in these modes. Configure computers to power down after 15 minutes unused and to hibernate after 30 minutes. Skip the screen savers; they’re not more energy-efficient than sleep modes and today’s LCD screens don’t need them.
A very interesting application that’s been around for about two years now, Granola works by using your computer’s built-in systems to monitor how much work you really need the CPU to be doing at any given time. Unlike most power management choices, Granola works in the background and saves you energy while your computer is actually on and in use. They say that there is little to no sacrifice in performance, even though power consumption drops.
As a final measure, plug all the computers, printers, copiers, and other office appliances into power strips rather than directly into wall outlets. When the machines are turned off for the night, also switch off the power strips. This prevents the appliances from consuming small amounts of energy, which they continue to do while off if they’re plugged into the wall. Keeping so much technology plugged in throughout the office is just like leaving lights on everywhere. The power consumption of plugged in devices might be invisible to the eye, but it sure isn’t invisible to your wallet.
We’ve grown so accustomed to an “always on” environment at work and at home, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that the actual time spent using a computer (or other technology and appliances) often represents a minority of out waking hours, and much smaller percentage of time when nights and weekends are taken into account. Powering devices we aren’t using doesn’t do anyone any favors.
Andria Morrisey is a freelance writer who specializes in outsourced IT consulting in Los Angeles. Andria leads a group of computer network consultants.