Earth-Friendly Business: A Guide to Green Computing

Getting a new company launched involves plenty of technology purchases. Make sure you’re getting your business off to a green start.

Entrepreneurs must juggle countless issues when growing a business, from brand-building to hiring to office rentals.

Although it can be challenging to add one more component into the mix, focusing on green computing and other green strategies from the start can create a solid foundation for your business. It could even make you a little money in the long run (see our article, Forget Saving, Let’s Make Money with Green Computing).

Let’s look at the essentials that any new business or one-person shop should evaluate to save some cash while reducing energy needs.

Comparison Shopping

Choosing a primary business computer is a large part of any small business’s green-computing strategy. Many experts have noted that laptops are kinder to the environment because they use less power, especially if you don’t plan to attach an external monitor. However, quite a few desktops have earned high marks for energy efficiency.

To start searching for your green computer, check out the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). Developed by the Green Electronics Council, this free, easy-to-use online tool helps you compare desktops, laptops and monitors based on environmental factors. EPEAT ranks items like displays, desktop computers and tablet notebooks by giving them a score of bronze, silver or gold. Think of it as the Olympics of green computing.

Features to Consider

The EPEAT employs a point system based on a number of positive criteria. Even if you skip using EPEAT and go shopping on your own, these particular factors are good to consider when comparing computers:

Project longevity/lifecycle: This is a big one when outfitting your office. The longer a computer is designed to live, the more environmentally friendly it’s considered to be (less in the tech landfill, in other words). But a longer life cycle is a big boost for your bottom line, too. If you don’t have to replace your laptop every couple of years, you save money over time.

When determining how long a computer might last, consider the availability of replacement parts, how easily it can be upgraded with common tools and whether there’s an extended warranty or service agreement. Also, factor some regular upkeep into your budget — much like your car, a computer benefits from a bit of maintenance to keep it running strong.

Energy conservation: Nearly every computer maker boasts energy-usage stats, but inspect the numbers carefully and do some comparison-shopping. A great resource for these types of figures is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Energy Star program. The Energy Star seal makes it easy to assess which desktops and laptops are the most energy-efficient. The Energy Star site also offers a download for an Excel document that helps you calculate office-equipment energy costs.

Design for end of life: During the excitement of computer purchasing, no one wants to think about what will happen when the machine needs to be discarded or recycled. But considering these “end-of-life” issues is important for understanding the regulations and tactics you may need to follow a few years from now.

Some computers are more easily rehabbed than others, which means you can donate them to nonprofit organizations or schools. This could involve a potential tax break for you, and fresh equipment for them.

Other Technology Needs

In addition to your workhorse computer, your office will most likely be stocked with numerous peripherals that can make a difference to your green-computing profile. Here are some tips on picking eco-friendly choices to round out your tech setup (for equipment like printers, copiers, monitors and servers):

  • Much like your computer selections, consider all the factors that go into a purchasing decision for other equipment, particularly yearly estimated energy costs, product lifecycle expectancy and recycling opportunities.
  • Look for an Energy Star rating for each piece of equipment. To gain top marks from Energy Star, a manufacturer has to prove a product will contribute to significant energy savings and deliver high performance. This makes it easy to identify equipment that will offer savings on energy bills without sacrificing productivity.
  • Make sure equipment has practical power-management functions, such as sleep mode or low-power settings.

Green Settings

Once you’ve done all the evaluation and purchasing for your green-computing components, make sure they stay as energy-efficient as possible by employing some strong power-management policies:

  • Use power strips with surge protectors. This will keep your equipment safer during electrical storms and allow you to turn off multiple pieces of equipment quickly.
  • Disable screen savers. In general, screen savers don’t save energy, even though it seems like the computer might be in sleep mode. In fact, some graphics-intensive screen savers can cause the computer to use as much as twice the amount of energy it uses during normal operation, and even prevents it from flipping into sleep mode.
  • Evaluate your power-management settings. The EPA recommends setting computers to enter system standby (or “hibernate”) after 30 to 60 minutes of inactivity. But some people choose to save even more energy by setting these thresholds even lower.

Starting a business or outfitting a one-person shop can be an exciting opportunity to make some fresh technology decisions. When evaluating what to purchase, keep a little more green in your pocket by taking the time to compare green-computing options.


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