Green Computer Usage

Scholars may disagree over how many laborers were needed to build Egypt's pyramids. But no one?except those promoting alien theories?appears to argue that it required many people working together, one small step at a time. It seems to me that this approach is generally mirrored in many of the actions we take in the name of sustainability: It's in the aggregate that the true value of the effort is revealed.

This message is sometimes lost under the waves of politicians, pundits and talking heads manning 24-hour news outlets. They often frame issues of sustainability in sweeping language and grand arguments. They talk of investing huge sums of money and repositioning industries. If I listen too long, I'm left with the feeling that the individual has no seat at the table and no chance to make an impact.

But my better self knows that simply isn't true. So, at the end of each workday, I make it a point to shut down my computer. At home, I turn off our PC whenever it isn't in use. It doesn't sound like much, I know. But more and more, I've become convinced of the almost-revolutionary power inherent in such simple acts.

Someone in our government appears to recognize this as well. The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy web site includes a consumer's guide with several pages devoted to prudent computer use. The information found there seems to confirm the energy-saving wisdom of turning off your computer when it isn't in use. Specifically, "although there is a small surge when a computer starts up, this amount of energy is less than that used when a computer runs for long periods." The site also indicates that PCs that aren't regularly left on for long periods last longer, and, since PCs produce heat, turning them off reduces building-cooling costs. The site offers the following computer-related including information and guidelines for energy savings and convenience:

  • Turn off your monitor if you won't be using the PC for more than 20 minutes.
  • Turn off both the CPU and the monitor if you won't be using your PC for more than two hours.
  • Make sure printers, monitors and other accessories are plugged into a power strip/surge protector. Turn off the power strip if you won't be using these accessories for a while.
  • If you don't use a power strip, unplug any extra equipment not in use.
  • Screen savers do not save energy. In fact, they may actually draw more energy than would be used without them.
  • Many PCs have a sleep feature which powers down the monitor and CPU by as much as 90 percent-plus, depending on the machine. If your computer has this feature, it must be set up through your operating software to work.

The exact amount of energy you'll save doing these things apparently depends on the type of computer, monitor, etc., that you happen to be using. But it appears that the savings produced are real, if not as dramatic as might be involved with something like adding more efficient heating and cooling.

So if the impact is minimal, why do it? My answer is: Because of the potential collective result. Just like turning off the lights or recycling, switching off a computer is a simple act that each of us can do with just a few extra seconds of responsible action. "Each of us" is the key phrase here. As with the laborers who created the pyramids, such small actions draw their ultimate impact from the communal "us." My single act may not amount to much. But it seems to me that all of us engaged simple, responsible action might be a very different story. Perhaps, in that way, we may ultimately do more than merely sit at the table?we may aid in the more important work of helping build it.

Greg Schaber 
Marketing and Printing Services