I'm not a gadget aficionado, but in the age of near-total reliance on technology, it's more important than ever to understand your impact and your options. I'm not sure there's anything worse than buying technology that you don't need, but when it comes to "must-haves" like computers, power chords and televisions, there are some terrific options for people who live in the real world: a place that exits in a delicate balance between technology and environmental sensitivity. The following electronics are a far cry from Walden, but they're on their way to an admirable eco-ideal nonetheless.
There's nothing I deal with more on a daily basis than my computer. I've already sent three to the graveyard, and even if their hearse was a recycling truck, it's still a disheartening to think that the vehicle of my virtual data has such a tangible effect on the planet. Because computers have become vital to so many people, it's especially important that manufacturers take steps towards responsible hardware, both in building and recycling their machines.
The environmental impact of PCs is extraordinary: according to a 2004 study published on the United Nations Web site, in addition to consuming energy in production and operation, computer materials can have long-term health effects on people in contact with emissions from production stages like microchip fabrication. Other hazmats used in their creation can seep into the environment through landfills with poisonous effects. Souped up as it is, I never knew my MacBook was so loaded.
Fortunately, some companies have begun taking serious steps towards more responsible PC production. Toshiba, for example, has tackled the issue of hazardous ingredients head on. The company's Portégé R600 was recently ranked the number-one most environmentally friendly PC by Greenpeace for eliminating toxic chemicals from production.
But even green products fall short without proper disposal initiatives. Toshiba seems to be tackling this as well, with the laudable goal of doubling its eco-efficiency by 2010: an effort well worth supporting, as long as Toshiba continues to follow regulatory compliance standards that require recycling electronic parts and reducing hazardous substances used in building their machines.
Another thing I didn't realize is how much power my electronic devices use, even when they're turned off. Sure, I unplug my cell phone charger when it's not attached to the phone, but I've not been so great about reaching around the bookcase to unplug my TV or yanking the chord on my cable box, DVD player or printer. Apparently all of these items are guzzling power, even when their lights are out.
The Belkin Surge Protector, recently recognized as a valuable green product by the Consumer Electronics Association, may put an end to some of that unnecessary energy waste. According to the product Web site, 'stand by' power, which is the juice that gets used even once a device is off, can be minimized by a remote switch that cuts off or activates power, depending on the needs of the item--DVRs, for example, require a continuous power supply, while other appliances do not. More simply, the surge protector can help you ensure that everything is turned off when you want it to be: one click allows you to simultaneously control all of the electronics in your home.
Next time you need a television, try one that is smart enough to turn itself off. More efficient TVs are an environmental imperative, since boob tubes are responsible for between 4 and 8 % of America's residential electricity use, based on a 2004 report and estimations by the National Resources Defense Council.
Wait until this summer and the Sony "Bravia Eco HDTV," can be yours--all 40, 46 or 52 inches of it. Sony promises that the television will cut power consumption by 40% through the help of the "presence sensor," which detects human motion through infrared rays that turn the device off when no one is around. Owning a Bravia would obviate the need for a Bilkin, in other ways, too: the TV features zero power consumption when in standby mode.
In our culture of consumption, it can be hard to resist the latest gizmo: so many of us are attached to the devices that keep us plugged in. The cost of staying connected can be greater than we recognize, however, and with so many people wanting and buying electronics, it's imperative that we support energy-efficient companies, not only for their products, but also for the example they set.
Of course, if you really want to walk the green walk, use your gadgets until they die, send them away on the bed of a recycling truck, and find out if there's a used devise you can get your hands on. If you're truly bold, unplug yourself entirely, and write me a letter--I'd love to be inspired by a modern-day Thoreau.
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