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Fri 1 Feb 2008 04:15 PM

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Go green

Inspired by Gore? Want to do more? Read on to learn how to compute in an environmentally friendly way.

In this post-Inconvenient Truth era, more people are becoming aware of climate change and many are subsequently thinking about how they can alter their habits to better protect the world we live in.

To this end, there are several changes you can make to how you interact with technology - at home, at work, and when on the move - all of which will decrease your carbon footprint, and that of your company.

Best of all, as many of the following suggestions relate specifically to the amount of power your devices munch through, these tips should also lead to you reducing your energy bills.

1. Power down

According to the team at the WWF-run Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI), the average desktop PC wastes nearly half of the power that's delivered to it. And of course, this wasted electricity translates to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions (when this electricity is produced), and also higher electricity bills for you.

There are several ways in which you can drastically cut the amount of juice your PC or laptop uses however. Let's examine these in more detail...

• Basics first: turn off your PC when you leave home or work - even if it's just for a break or for lunch.

Let's assume you're running a fairly unassuming 200-watt workstation but you currently leave it turned on all the time. Its direct annual electrical costs might total more than US $125 (calculated based upon a fee of $0.075/kWh). If you even just operate the system during normal business hours, say around 40 hours per week, then the direct annual energy cost would be just $30. And even then, that's assuming you need to use your PC constantly during work hours.

• Also turn off your PC's peripherals when not in use. Your laser printer might sit in standby mode all day for example, yet only be used once or twice. Again, this is an obvious waste of power.

• Activate your PC or laptop's power management settings. The CSCI reckons that by turning on these features (which are available already within your computer's operating system), and choosing energy-efficient computers when you buy, you'll be kinder to both the environment and your wallet - to the tune of an estimated $20 per year.

If everyone used these features, the CSCI's predication is that we could, together, reduce the impact of computers on the environment by 54 million tons of CO2 per year. That's the equivalent of taking 11 million cars off the road.

Once enabled, power management places your monitor, hard drives and computer into a low-power ‘sleep' mode after a pre-determined period of inactivity. A simple touch of the mouse or keyboard then ‘wakes' the PC, hard drive and monitor in just a couple of seconds.
To activate power management in Windows XP:

i) Hit Start/Settings/Control Panel;

ii) Double-click the Display icon;

iii) Choose the Screensaver tab, then click the Power button in the ‘Energy Saving Features of Monitor' box;

iv) Under the Power Schemes tab, select Home/Office Desk (for desktop PC) or Portable/Laptop (for notebook PC);

v) We recommend you set ‘Turn off monitor' to 15 minutes (or less), ‘Turn off hard disks' to the same, and finally, set ‘System standby' at 30 minutes (or less);

vi) Click OK and you're done.

To activate power management in Windows Vista:

i) Click Start/Run and then Control Panel

ii) If you are in Control Panel's Theme View, double click ‘System and Maintenance'. Or if in Classic View, double-click Power Options

iii) Once in Power Options, you can choose a pre-configured plan (we recommend Power Saver), or else customise one of the pre-configured plans, or create a whole new tailored plan of your own

ivi) If choosing Power Saver, click on ‘Change plan settings' to amend the display and sleep settings using the timings suggested above. (You can tailor even more settings by choosing ‘Change advanced power settings'.)
And here's a reason to upgrade to Vista: according to Microsoft's own well-documented research, you can, on average, chop your PC's cost of ownership by $73 a year, using Vista compared to XP (due to its more intelligent power management system). That doesn't include any monitor use.

• Should you need to leave a PC process running when you leave the house, you can also employ a software program to shut down your PC at a pre-determined time (meaning your rig doesn't have to run and run just because you're not there to switch it off). Download the appropriately named ‘Shutdown After' from www.vcsoftwares.com/sa.

• Reduce the number of times you recharge your laptop by helping its battery last longer. The best program for this job - which claims to cut power usage by 70%! - is called ‘Vista Battery Saver' and it's downloadable from www.softpedia.com.

2. Screen sense

If your PC screen saver turns on and remains on for more than five minutes, then you're wasting energy. That's because contrary to popular belief, screen savers were designed to save the phosphors in your CRT monitor's screen, not to save energy, but even this phosphor worry isn't really a concern with newer monitors (especially flat-panel LCD screens).

A screen saver that displays moving images causes your monitor to consume as much electricity as it does when in active use; rather than the fewer watts it will churn through in sleep mode.

As such, we suggest you deactivate your screen saver (via the Start/Control Panel/Display dialog), and instead enable Windows' power management settings.

3. Paper potential

It's so easy to waste reams of office paper, and therefore cash too, yet it doesn't have to be this way. In fact it's very simple to chop the amount of precious pulp you chew. Follow these steps:

• Give employees easy access to paper recycling bins. Most building managers will be able to supply such bins (or at least empty those you buy in) if asked. If not, petition them to get with the program.

Note:it must be at least as convenient for staff to throw their used paper sheets in a recycling bin as it would be for them to hit a normal ‘waste' bin. If in doubt, limit the number of normal bins so that recycling becomes the norm rather than the exception.

• Set your home or office's printers to print in duplex (double-sided mode) by default. Depending on the type of printers or multifunction copiers in question, this can either be set-up via a printer's driver software (in other words, you'll need to configure this via that software from each client PC), or on the machine itself (usually in the case of all-in-one printer/copier devices).
When doing this, also consider setting printers to output in monochrome (black and white) mode, by default. Generally speaking, a lot of the time users print in colour when they don't need to. Changing this will reduce the number of colour toners or ink cartridges you get through, bringing down your print consumable spend in the process.

• Teach yourself, and family members and colleagues, how to print web pages properly - i.e. by outputting a web page's ‘print version' (when available) rather than the wasteful, ink-heavy version you originally see on-screen. A useful software app to help you print only what you need, and thus not waste ink and paper, is Green Print - found at www.printgreener.com.

• Demand your company buys and uses recycled printer paper in the first place. (Note: you'll still need access to premium quality paper for outputting marketing and client-facing materials however.)

• Make the most of your printer vendor's consumable recycling scheme. Many of the major printer vendors offer ‘return to recycle' schemes that apply both to their empty inkjet cartridges and laser toner packs. For example, HP's ‘Planet Partners' printing supplies return and recycling program offers just this. Postage-paid, pre-addressed labels or envelopes are included within the boxes of most HP printing supplies, so ask your IT team or fellow printer users to keep these near the printer - so they're close at hand when a cartridge finally bites the dust.

4. Buy right

• When buying computers, monitors and printers, try to purchase ‘Energy Star' compliant models (Energy Star 4.0 is the latest version). Devised by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the ‘Energy Star' rating simply signifies that such systems go easy on energy and can be programmed to automatically power-down to a low power state when not in use.

• Buy LCD monitors rather than energy-hungry, old-school CRT models. And only buy a monitor that's as large as you need; a 17-inch CRT monitor for example uses 30% more energy in active mode than an equivalent 15-inch screen.

• Buy networkable printers and share these between users over a local area network, rather than giving lots of users their own printers.

• Instead of simply dumping your old PC, which will potentially use up landfill space and/or energy when it's broken down, why not sell it or give it to a school or charity? Start by calling your local government office to find out if they run such a give-back scheme (several in the UAE do).

In charge?If you run an office, consider making these your policies...

• Digitise as many forms and documents as possible and only print when required;

• Have staff turn off their PCs and office lights during lunch breaks;

• Ensure recycling bins are within easy reach of all staff;

• Devise a way of rewarding departments for shutting down the AC and lights in rooms when not in use;

• Encouraging the use of ‘efficient' forms of communication (those that use hardly any power and don't add to your costs), such as MSN messenger, to keep in touch with colleagues and customers in other offices.

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