Green Computing: What Does it Mean Part 1: Selling Green
written by: localcitizen•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/5/2010
A look at green computing in its general definition, and some notes on what it may mean in the future.
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Is Green Computing a Marketing Strategy?
With so many households, companies and organizations "going green", it's no surprise that technology has come under the microscope in the search for more sustainable and renewable energy. However, there's a lot of debate over just what this means for the consumer of electronic products. Optimists might say that the rush toward green technology will help America deal with greenhouse gas emmissions and similar issues, but just as often, the conversation veers into the territory of the cynic, where questions are asked about what really lies at the root of a top consumer tech company's "green-heartedness".
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Factors in Technology's Carbon Footprint
People who have been studying the real impact of technology on the environment have found that there are a lot of different aspects of the way electronics are sold, shipped and used that all contribute to a general "carbon footprint". There's the actual energy that a computer or other device uses (to illuminate the screen, crunch numbers, etc.) but there is also the fuel spent taking the goods to market, as well as the fuel sources for creating all of that nifty packaging (loads of styrofoam, cardboard, etc. to protect materials during transit) and another huge "green cost" - the issues with disposal when a product wears out. Worn-out devices and their batteries put a further burden on landfills and pollute the general environment including waterways.
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In response to these issues, companies offering "green" products can go several different routes. The first is to tout low-usage aspects of a technology, such as auto-shutoff features or devices that function on minimal power. There's also another way that companies can go green, buy "buying off" the environment in the form of "green credits". Technolofy firms, like all other kinds of businesses, can participate in 'cap and trade systems' for lowering the company's carbon footprint on paper (see article on the possible future of Cap and Trade), or they can offer green incentives to the consumer, as in the case of pc maker Dell (see Dell's commitment to planting trees here). The Dell Plant a Tree for Me program represents an excellent example of the ways a company tries to provide "green value" in ways that it finds feasible to the existing business model.
Some other green issues are harder to tackle. Recycling old laptops and desktop computers is a laborious, complex process, as these products are not really made to be recycled. The amount of heavy metals and plastics fused into a usable whole, as well as a series of heavily interlocked parts that prevents easy 'swapping out' of busted components, makes the whole thing a real hassle. Companies like Hewlett Packard have introduced recycling initiatives at the company level (according to this article), but there's relatively little a consumer can do on their end, other than surrender the old devices to experts who can deal with recycling that various components. For businesses, reselling is a good option and companies such as RICOM, which specialize in refurbished IT hadrware, make it easy to do just that.
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What it all boils down to is what many consumers feel: that real progress in green technology has largely to do with the manufacturing process, and therefore, with corporate intent. The cynics feel shut out by a system of promising "green" that exists largely on paper, as is the case with the bulk fo cap and trade policies as well as incentives like Dell's. If the consumer can't see the tree being planted, the greenhouse gas emmissions being controlled, or the laptops being recycled, it begs the question: how much of this stuff is going on? This is just one of the troubling aspects of trying to verify how green your devices really are.