Make IT Green

Web workers necessarily conduct our business on computers. So, one of the most obvious ways for us to go green is by using eco-friendly hardware. Electronics have long been a source of toxic pollutants and persistent waste, but manufacturers are now turning an eye to reducing the environmental impact of their products. Hardware makers are committing, to varying degrees, to phase out the use of toxic chemicals, such as halogens, and the components that are difficult recycle often contained in computers and accessories. Start increasing the sustainability of your business by choosing from the most environmentally-responsible computers and peripherals available.

Be careful when choosing products that claim to be green. Some companies make claims about the environmental sustainability of their products when they are only green in comparison to other manufacturers. In fact Dell (s dell), a company that is taking some heat from Greenpeace at the moment for failing to live up to its pledge to eliminate harmful chemicals, took Apple to court for claiming to be the greenest. Apple (s aapl) scored a win in that case, but its iPad could do better in the green department. A great resource for checking the environmental performance of electronic products is EPEAT which rates “desktop and laptop computers, thin clients, workstations and computer monitors” and features resources for individual consumers and small businesses around the world.  Another useful place to look is Greenpeace’s “Guide to Greener Electronics” (PDF of full report), its annual report that also covers gadget and phone makers. The site includes a nifty gauge that makes comparisons between brands easy and an interactive chart for getting more details.

Eco-Friendly Computers

Sony (s sne), Apple and HP (s hpq) are the highest scoring computer makers on Greenpeace’s chart because they have all committed to mitigating their environmental impact. Sony’s VAIO line boasts some of the best eco-credentials on the market, especially when taking energy consumption and levels of toxic chemicals into consideration. Apple scores well in reduced harmful chemicals — all of its products are free of PVC and brominated flame retardant (BFR) — but its notorious tight-lipped communications strategy makes details of their supply chain difficult to asses. Apple does try to make its products easy to recycle and energy efficient, two important features for the long-term sustainability of any electronic device. HP has the same rating from Greenpeace and offers a range of computers that fall under their “Eco Highlights” label, including those that meet Energy Star standards.

Dell computers is venturing into providing greener options with its “Earth” category. While it may be using renewable bamboo for its packaging, the ballyhooed bamboo case computer pictured in the “Greener Products” section doesn’t exist yet. Greenpeace wants the company to commit to reducing chemical use. It lost a point “for backtracking on its commitment to eliminate PVC vinyl plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in all its products by the end of 2009.”

Companies to avoid if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your computing include Acer, Toshiba, and Samsung. They all received low scores from Greenpeace due to their backtracking on commitments to eliminate PVC and BFRs. As with all of the brands mentioned above, some of their products are greener than others. Toshiba, Samsung and even Lenovo, which scored miserably in the Greenpeace guide, all have desktops or laptops that earned Gold-level certification from EPEAT. Lenovo even garnered the first TCO Certified Edge award for an all-in-one PC. TCO is a certification that considers eco-friendliness, ergonomics and performance to determine which products “are pushing the boundaries of environmental design and leading the way to a cleaner, more efficient IT infrastructure.”

See Green

Laptops are more eco-friendly than desktops with their miniaturized components and reduced energy consumption, but desktops are still more common in home offices. Select an eco-friendly monitor to go along with your box and you’ll have a fully green desktop system.

Despite its low ranking in the Greenpeace guide, Lenovo is on the shortlist of environmentally-conscious monitor manufacturers. Its ThinkVision series, for instance, comes in at the Gold level of EPEAT certification, making it a very responsible choice. Taiwanese display maker Benq combines clean, somewhat cheeky designs with strict environmental standards. Its BenQ V2400 Eco LED Monitor is 100 percent recyclable and mercury-free — and even features a little indentation in the base that can be used as a planter. ViewSonic also has some offerings on the EPEAT and TCO ratings, including the LED-backlit VG1932wm. It has announced intentions to move its whole line over to LED backlights, meaning that they will be mercury free. HP, Dell, and Samsung are other brands with models that make it onto both the EPEAT and TCO lists. Check the manufacturer’s or certifying group’s website to double-check that specific models of displays, and all your system’s components, are truly energy-efficient, non-toxic, recycled and recyclable.

Trenton DuVal has managed the online communications efforts of nonprofits focused on creating a more sustainable, just and equitable world since 2005. His varied experiences living and working on five continents have included professional gold farming, crossing the Atlantic by sailboat, a few meals with Nobel Laureates and a tragic run-in with a three-toed sloth.

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