Going green is good business

Chances are, you’re not ready to compost in the office kitchen or turn off all the lights. “Greening” your computing equipment, though, is a low-risk way for your business to not only help the environment but also reduce costs. It’s also one of the hottest trends in business today.

“You want to be seen as a leader and not a laggard,” says Nik Kaestner, the founder of Green Squared Consulting, which advises companies on being environmentally aware.

Reducing energy usage, which also reduces carbon dioxide emissions and your energy bill, is the most effective thing you can do. The average PC wastes about half the energy provided to it, according to the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, an industry group dedicated to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Encourage employees to shut down their PCs, or put them into sleep mode, when not working on them. Kaestner recommends using a smart power strip such as Smart Home Systems’ US$42 LCG4, which can tell when you’ve shut down your PC and turn off peripherals that are plugged into the computer.

You should replace older equipment with products that are Energy Star 4.0 certified. The new 4.0 standard, which went into effect in July, limits the energy a PC can use in sleep and idle modes and requires the use of an internal power supply that is 80 percent efficient. Dell’s Energy Calculator compares the amount of electricity used by its Energy Star 4.0-rated OptiPlex 745 desktop PCs with a 17-inch LCD monitor and enabled power-management settings against that of a non-power-managed OptiPlex GX620 with a 17-inch CRT. Dell says using a rated OptiPlex 745 can save $70 and 0.56 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Energy Star’s savings calculator reports more modest Electricity-cost savings of $2 per computer annually with an Energy Star-rated desktop instead of a nonrated one.

One step further: Buy a product registered by EPEAT, a database of desktops, laptops, and computer monitors that meet three levels (bronze, silver, and gold) of environmental performance criteria defined by the IEEE 1680 specification. Four of the 51 criteria address energy conservation (including Energy Star certification). Other criteria categories include reduction of toxic substances, use of recycled materials, and corporate policy. In June, HP announced the first product to meet the stringent EPEAT gold standard; HP says that this model, called the rp5700 Long Lifecycle Business Desktop PC, is Energy Star 4.0 certified, has a five-year life cycle, and is constructed with 95 percent recycled components.

You can also buy other equipment that uses fewer toxic materials and more recycled components. Many new electronics sold in the United States already meet the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), a standard banning the general use of six hazardous substances including lead and mercury, and many manufacturers are committed to further reducing use of toxic substances. But finding products with large amounts of recycled materials is difficult, largely due to the low supply of nontoxic materials.

“Availability of materials is the biggest challenge,” says Carl Eckersley, manager of product stewardship in HP’s PC group. Finding consistent quantities of engineering-grade plastics that don’t contain toxins such as brominated fire retardants is difficult, he says.

Recycling your old equipment is another important action to take. Companies such as California’s Green Citizen will responsibly dismantle and recycle electronics for a fee (and for some products the service is free), while the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation has a program that will perform the same service for used rechargeable batteries at no cost.

While you’re waiting to replace your more expensive equipment, you can reduce paper use by printing double-sided pages, and you can purchase refillable printer-ink cartridges. Small steps, but taken in large measure, they can lead to a cleaner planet.