Computer recycling has never been convenient. While just about every major manufacturer offers an end-of-life take back program, finding and printing the right labels, weighing materials, and shipping the package off isn’t always easy. Even then, some manufacturers will only collect their brand materials meaning you have to do the same process all over again for that monitor you got elsewhere. Having a reliable, go-to place to recycle any brand computer for free would be easiest right? With Reconnect, that’s the place Goodwill is trying to become. Dell and Goodwill are now extending their Reconnect Program to 31 drop-off locations in New York City and eastern New York State.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TECQ) has officially implemented the Computer Equipment Recycling Program for their state. The program will expand free electronic recycling options for consumers. The wording in the program shows that the commission means business. Manufacturer’s must offer a take back program for their products in order to sell them. Similarly, retailers are not able to sell new computer equipment unless the manufacturer appears on TECQ’s approved list. Thankfully for computer shoppers in Texas, just about every major manufacturer, including Dell, HP, Apple, Toshiba, Sony, and Lenovo, appears on the list.
How do you reduce packaging when selling a laptop? Ship it in a messenger bag made of 100% recycled materials with all the accessories included. For its Pavilion dv6929, HP has reduced 97% of the cardboard and plastic traditionally used in packaging by doing just that.
With the laptop, HP won Walmart’s Home Entertainment Design Challenge, a competition among electronics manufacturers focused on reducing the environmental impact of their products. The $798 laptop is sold exclusively in Walmart and Sam’s Club retail locations. Customers are also able to bring in their old computer to the store and have it recycled free of charge.
In its race for the green tech gold medal (sorry, I’m not supposed to use Olympics references anymore), Dell has just received the EPEAT Gold standard for its new Studio Hybrid line. The Hybrid is the first consumer level desktop to meet the gold standard. The computers are 80% smaller than standard desktops, ENERGY STAR compliant, use 75% less printed documentation, and use packaging comprised of 95% recycled material.
EPEAT makes it easy for people to measure the “greenness” of various electronics. You might think of it as LEED for electronics. Products are rated by number of satisfied required and optional criteria. Categories include packaging, reduction of environmentally sensitive materials, energy efficiency, and labeling of plastics for recycling. Just about every major manufacturer has their computers rated and a complete list is available on the EPEAT site. The gold standard is the most rigorous rating and Dell, as they are quick to point out, has more EPEAT Gold computers than any other.
It’s obvious that Dell is serious about environmental protection, though their claims of carbon neutrality are somewhat sticky. They were the first to introduce an 80 PLUS Gold power supply. Their headquarters are powered entirely with renewable energy. Plus, they offer free recycling for any Dell product in the US, Europe, China, and many, many other parts of the world.
Although they might need to work on packaging…
Despite the amount of technological barriers to overcome, leaps in reliability and battery life make them a better environmental option for computer storage, if only slightly. The question comes with the news that Dell is now offering the storage drives in their consumer level M1330 and M1530 laptops.
Solid-state drives (SSDs) are an alternative to plate-spinning hard disk drives (HDDs), the part of your computer you want to toss out the window after it crashes and you lose all your life’s work. SSDs, however, are more mechanically reliable because there are fewer moving parts. SSDs are also more energy efficient, typically adding 20 minutes more battery life to your laptop compared to HDDs. SSDs are generally speedier, though operating systems have yet to take full advantage of them.
Dubbed the “missing greenhouse gas,” nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) was found by a recent study to have a global climate impact 17,000 times greater than carbon dioxide. The chemical is found in the LCD panels of cell phones, televisions, and computer monitors, as well as in semiconductors and synthetic diamonds. The chemical is not one of the greenhouse gases monitored by the Kyoto Protocol, due to the fact that LCDs were not produced in significant quantities when it was drafted.
What kind of impact is this suppose to have, you ask? The chemical is found to stay in the atmosphere for 550 years and there is no force of nature known to remove it. This year, nitrogen trifluoride emissions are expected to have an impact equal to Austria’s CO2 output. Production of the chemical may double in 2009. The study points to a number of NF3 manufacturing facilities opening up in the US, Korea, and China. The production increase is due in part to the switch to digital television which will lead to increased LCD consumption and the disposal of older sets, some of them early LCD models.
Dell wants to be the “greenest” tech company out there. With commitment to industry standards like EPEAT and ENERGY STAR in addition to their recycling initiatives and WEEE compliance, you might say they are well on their way.
This week brings an industry first for the company: an 80PLUS Gold power supply for servers. 80PLUS Gold is the highest rating for power supply energy efficiency. The standard requires 92 percent minimum efficiency for the power supply unit at 50 percent of rated output. What exactly does that mean? Not all of the electricity that a computer uses goes to power the computer; some is released as excess heat. To be 92 percent efficient means 92 percent of the energy that goes into the computer is actually used by the computer. More efficient power supplies cut down on the wasted excess heat.
Green Plug has a vision: to reduce energy and material waste in electronics. How are they going to do it? By implementing an embeddable power supply technology in consumer electronics that would allow for multiple devices to communicate energy needs to a single, universal power adapter. The technology will help increase energy efficiency by eliminating phantom power, power that is wasted on charged or unused electronics that are plugged in. The technology also supports a universal connector for all devices, eliminating the need for multiple, incompatible cables. When adapters and cables will not have to be discarded when replacing old devices with new ones, the amount of e-waste will decrease.
This vision can’t be accomplished without the help of manufacturers. Westinghouse, maker of computer monitors, televisions, and digital picture frames, is the first among electronics manufacturers to adopt the Green Plug technology into their devices.
According to an ACNielsen and Natural Marketing Institute study (PDF), green consumers are willing to pay more for organic, natural or environmentally-friendly products compared to “non-green” consumers. The section of consumers termed “lifestyles of health and sustainability” or “LOHAS” spend the most on consumer packaged goods such as cereal, jelly, pasta, produce, soup and ready-to-serve prepared food despite the state of the economy.
“LOHAS” products represent a $209 billion industry, a number that is suspected to rise to $400 billion by 2010. Small brands are able to succeed in the face of such demand. According to Brandweek, Ian’s Natural Food’s is growing 45% annually while Nature’s Path Foods grew 30% in the first half of this year and plans to launch 15 new products. ACNielsen and NMI point out that there are still more categories (sports drinks, baking mixes, and syrups among them) that represent “opportunities for CPG manufacturers and retailers seeking to capture LOHAS consumers wallet.”
Intel further detailed plans for its Atom processor at this year’s Computex. The company is expecting the processor to create a whole new set of computers dubbed “netbooks” and “nettops,” low-power systems that are primarily used for internet and other basic functions such as listening to music and word processing. “Netbooks” will be much smaller in terms of storage (2-4 GB) and screen size (7-10 inches) and priced around $250.
The Atom uses a much lower voltage than conventional desktop and notebook processors. Intel’s current Core 2 Duo processors max out at 35W, the Atom will top out at 4W. While a computer’s total wattage includes other components – power for the hard drive, optical drive, graphics processor, etc. – the drop in processor wattage is significant. Intel is hoping new technology such as flash-based storage will be used to help further decrease the energy used in the systems. Low voltage not only means better battery life, but decreased energy demand and environmental impact, a plus for users and the planet. Pricing a computer at $250 also means making the computer available to people with a wider range of incomes, serving the people aspect of the triple bottom line.
Here in Lawrence, KS, we have a special restaurant called Local Burger that serves local, organic, and natural fast food – burgers, hot dogs, fries, milkshakes. Local Burger founder, Hilary Brown, and her restaurant have been featured by Outside, Gourmet, Bon Appetite, Vanity Fair, the Sundance Channel, Sprig.com, and elsewhere. Local Burger is loved by people and critics alike, including myself, for its unique business model. So when I heard about Burgerville, a burger chain with 39 locations in the Northwest that uses local and seasonal foods, I wanted to find out more.
You might think updating hardware would be the best option for reducing energy consumption when it comes to computers, but software can play a large part as well. At IBM’s PULSE 08 conference, the company said it was pushing IT clients to adopt their energy-saving software. IBM’s Tivoli software, a systems management tool, is reported to manage power better and by extension lower carbon emissions and lower costs for the client. IBM’s WebSphere software is also reported to lower energy costs by using virtual applications. IBM also offers Rational Team Concert, software that enables collaboration on multi-site development.
Virtual collaboration should reduce the need for excessive travel. IBM is also offering “self-assessment tools” which would allow clients to set goals and monitor success. IBM says that reducing people’s need to travel, making software more efficient, and making applications virtual are the three main components to reducing the environmental impact of the IT world. With multitudes of servers using so much energy, the IT world is probably looking for software solutions.
Corsair is one of the leading providers of gaming-grade, high performance memory and power supplies. They offer products like a 1000W power supply fit to power three video cards, and the DOMINATOR line of memory built for processor overclocking, a power-hungry process of maximizing computer performance.
As you may have guessed, computer gaming has never been about conserving energy. But Corsair realizes energy efficiency means more reliable computers and money saved on electricity, both of which are important to gamers. With that in mind, they made the entirety of their power supply line 80 PLUS certified. 80 PLUS certification reduces wasted energy by requiring the unit to use 80 percent of energy at various levels of power loads. That is to say if the computer is using 1000 watts, no less than 800 of those must be used for processing. 80 PLUS products reduce heat output, increase reliability, and reduce the need for loud fans, all of which Corsair is touting to its customers. The certification is not just for one or two units; Corsair brought it to their entire line because of the benefits. It proves you don’t have to sacrifice performance for efficiency.
This is not to say the company has gone green across the board. When your business is high end computer gaming, that’s a difficult thing to achieve. Using a 1000W power supply and three video cards is excessive, no matter if it plays the latest games with no lagging. Additionally, Corsair is lacking a take back program for recycling parts. There is also little to no information given on the materials in the units, meaning there is no way to know if the units contain lead or other environmentally sensitive materials. 80 PLUS is an excellent standard for the company, but it shouldn’t be the last of their green initiatives.
Sydney-based Ecocho founder Tim Macdonald had an idea; build a search engine based on Google and Yahoo technology and use the ad revenue to plant two trees for every 1,000 searches, offsetting tons of carbon dioxide.
However, the practice of “compensating users for viewing ads or performing searches, or promise compensation to a third party for such behavior” is a violation of Google AdSense policy and Google decided to pull support of the site, on Earth Day no less. Macdonald claims Google is not enforcing its rules to other “green” search engines such as Blackle, though Blackle is not making the same claims.
Pablo has addressed the effectiveness of Blackle in the past. And while stopping support for Ecocho on Earth Day may seem heartless, rules are rules. And besides, Google is addressing energy and carbon issues on a much larger scale. Google claims their data centers use half the energy of a similarly sized data center and that they are conducting energy audits and investing in carbon offsets. They made a big splash in November when they announced an R&D team was working to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy at a price cheaper than coal. They are giving grants to renewable energy companies like eSolar Inc. and Makani Power Inc. to meet this goal. Killing off smaller, seemingly well-intentioned search engines may make Google look monolithic and draconian, but Google is able to fund sustainability initiatives in ways Ecocho would never be able to. It’s not really about who is greener anyway; it all boils down to an untimely and unfortunate violation of policy.
EPEAT, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, is like LEED certification for electronics; it monitors the environmental impact of electronics much like LEED monitors buildings. Products are ranked either bronze, silver, or gold, depending on how many of the 51 criteria they meet. Criteria include recycling programs for products, the labeling of plastic parts for recycling, the elimination of “environmentally sensitive” material, ENERGY STAR®, RoHS, and WEEE compliance, among others. Companies are taking a serious look at the certification now that at least 95% of federal agency electronic purchases must be EPEAT-registered.
Naturally, the EPEAT website has a list of all certified products on their site, but now Softchoice, a major IT provider, is including the EPEAT ranking within the technical specifications of all available products. Softchoice is making an important step here; increasing the visibility of EPEAT as well as explaining its importance.
Computer manufacturers are doing a great job of implementing the EPEAT standards. HP, Dell, Toshiba, and Lenovo all have EPEAT gold certified products. But much like the Eco TV, marketing does not seem geared toward these environmental efforts.