5 Smart Tricks to Green Your Tech

Lessen the impact of your devices with these handy tips.

hand holding phone

Getty Images / Design by Josh Seong

In this edition of Small Acts, Big Impact we look at some simple steps to help lighten the load of modern technology.

The average home contains levels of technology that would have been unimaginable several decades ago. While this has enabled us to work, communicate, and entertain ourselves in a whole new way, it comes with a significant environmental cost — that of building the devices, running them, and eventually discarding them. Fortunately, there are some ways to optimize tech's performance to reduce its impact on the planet.

Small Act: Power Down Devices Fully

At the end of the day, or if you're leaving the house for a prolonged period of time, be sure to turn off all household electronics to save energy rather than leaving them in standby mode.

Big Impact

Even though many TVs, computers, and game consoles have a standby mode, it continues to draw what's known as vampire power. It is much better than it used to be, but it still adds up to a significant 23% of power consumption in the average home and can cost anywhere from $165 to $440 per household. Avoid this by turning devices off completely and/or unplugging them from the wall. Make it easier by using power strips that control multiple devices at once or timers that do it automatically.

Small Act: Hold on to Your Phone

Resist the urge to always update your phone for the latest model. Hold on to the one you've got and make it last. Use a phone case, take it for repair, maximize the battery lifespan, and don't take unnecessary risks.

Big Impact

Making a smartphone requires nearly 10 times more precious metals than a desktop computer or laptop. The extraction process makes smartphones particularly carbon-intensive, which is why 85% of a smartphone's carbon emissions happen before it's sold. That's a good reason to break the typical habit of buying a new phone every two years and stick with what you've got.

Small Act: Reconsider the Printer

Could you live without a printer? Many people do, relying instead on electronic files and using printing services only when needed. It saves trees, ink, money, and a great deal of stress.

Big Impact

Every year Americans use about 680 pounds of paper per person and around seven trees' worth of paper and wood-pulp products. One fast way to curb paper usage is to get rid of the home printer. So much can be done electronically now, from signing documents to sending and storing files to downloading tickets, that it hardly makes sense to keep a printer at home for occasional use. Instead, go to a printing shop, library, school, or place of work to print only what's necessary, sticking to PDFs and other e-files the rest of the time.

Small Act: Turn Off the Video

The next time you're in a virtual meeting, turn off your camera to shrink the meeting's carbon footprint by up to 96%. You'll also feel less stressed, not having to look at yourself.

Big Impact

New research by MIT, Purdue, and Yale found that the more video is used, the greater the environmental footprint. One hour of videoconferencing emits between 150 and 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide. For comparison, a car produces about 8,887 grams of CO2 from burning one gallon of gasoline. MIT says that one hour also requires up to 0.6 gallons of water and a land area about the size of an iPad Mini. If video is required, lessen the impact by using standard definition, rather than HD.

Small Act: Use Rechargeable Batteries Instead of Disposable

Buy rechargeable batteries for household items that have high energy consumption, such as flashlights, cameras, and children's toys. 

Big Impact

Manufacturing batteries generates an enormous carbon footprint. One study found that "it takes more than 100 times the energy to manufacture an alkaline battery than is available during its use phase." Switching to rechargeable batteries is one way to improve this, especially for frequently used household items with high energy requirements. Rechargeable batteries are only better than disposables when they've been recharged a minimum of 50 times. 

View Article Sources
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  3. Tencer, Daniel. "Your Habit of Buying a New Smartphone Every 2 Years is Killing the Planet." Huffpost, 2018.

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