Green Computing: What Does it Really Mean? Part 2: ENERGY STAR and energy efficient technology

ENERGY STAR: A Government Project

All of the statistics on technology-related energy expenditures in this country have prompted more involvement than just that of companies. America’s government has its eye on all attributes of national life that lead to high energy use, both to combat our reliance on foreign oil and to fight global warming. In recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy put together a program called ENERGY STAR, that certifies products as meeting energy effiency standards. The program’s founders claim to have saved Americans billions per year on their utility bills and the greenhouse gas effects equivalent to 27 million cars just in the year 2007!

ENERGY STAR and Green Computing

In green computing, a major aspect of ENERGY STAR’s effects on the market is the advent of computers that shut down when not in use. This illustrates how a government-backed program can push companies to develop gear that is actually greener, (even if the advance is, by some standards, marginal). However, what programs like ENERGY STAR can’t do is develop a comprehensive green process for every consumer, and that’s partly because the carbon footprint of a technology has a lot to do with ‘linking’ the producer and the consumer.

A ‘Symbiotic’ Life Cycle?

One major impediment to an overall carbon footprint reduction for technology is that the devices we use pass through so many hands that a major part of the energy use involves packaging and transportation. There’s also the "one size does not fit all" issue, where because each buyer’s needs are unique, a producer can’t really optimize the process alone. Nor can the buyer. And that’s the dilemma. In yesterday’s "free market", where energy efficiency wasn’t an issue, the process of serving diverse customers worked fine: companies churned out all kinds of specialized delivery patterns and metrics for different client bases. But when the issue becomes how to get products to consumers in the most efficient way, there often seems to be a complete disconnect. Can a company re-invent its delivery practices to waste less packaging and fuel in transit, with the help of a client base? Can consumers be assisted in making sure their devices get recycled efficiently? These are things that programs like ENERGY STAR do not address…and it remains to be seen how significantly they will be addressed in the future.