Not everyone can afford to install solar panels or get a new Prius this Earth Day, but there is one place you can go green without spending an arm and a leg or radically changing your lifestyle: your computer. Chances are you spend the majority of your day sitting in front of the keyboard, and a few small changes can go a long way toward reducing its negative impact on the environment. As an added bonus, doing your part for the environment will save you money, too. This Earth Day, we've rounded up a few simple ways you can go green with your computer.
Shutdown Your Computer Without Losing the Perks of an Always-On PC
Obviously, computers require electricity to run, so shutting down, sleeping, or hibernating your computer when you're not using it conserves energy. Every modern operating system has its own settings for conserving power, so the first thing you should do—if you haven't already—is open the power settings of your computer and set them for optimal energy use. Set your computer to put your monitor to sleep, spin down your hard drives, and put your computer to sleep when you're not using it. Even better, since your computer uses less power when hibernating than when sleeping, set up your computer to hibernate rather than just go to sleep.
One of the biggest turn-offs (no pun intended) about shutting down or sleeping your computer is that you miss out on some of the finer things your computer provides even when you're away. For example, if you're downloading a large file, you may want the download to continue even when you're away. Likewise, we've covered tonnes of ways to remotely access your computer, all of which no longer work if your computer's turned off. Luckily you can continue using your computer during these times but still conserve power the rest of the time.
For example, Windows users should check out previously mentioned WinOFF, which shuts down, restarts, and hibernates your computer (among other things) after a certain amount of time, at a specific time, or when your CPU goes idle so that your computer automatically shuts off at times you don't need it.
If a download is what you're waiting for, many peer-to-peer clients, like the popular BitTorrent client uTorrent, can shutdown your computer when a download completes so you can get your file and save energy, too.
Between WinOFF and built-in shutdown features common to many apps, we've taken care of the the download problem—but what about when you want to access your computer remotely? If it's shut down, you can't very well get to it, can you? Actually, you can, assuming you set up Wake-on-LAN on your computer. Once Wake-on-LAN's enabled, you can turn your computer on over the internet from anywhere—so there's no reason not to shut down your computer when you leave the house.
Save Paper when Printing
When it comes to the environment, one of the first places most offices can improve is the giant pile of discarded paper by the network printer. Aside from obvious things you can do on your own—like printing duplex, printing to PDF, previewing before printing, and not printing hundreds of copies of an email forward to plaster around the office—there are a few other tools you can use to minimise wasting paper and ink when printing.
To save ink and paper when you're printing from your browser, use previously mentioned Firefox extension Aardvark to tweak the layout of a page and remove elements—like ads and images—that you don't need on the printed page.
When you're not printing from the browser, Windows users can save tonnes on ink and paper with previously mentioned GreenPrint, a freeware application that automatically identifies and removes unnecessary pages or space from your printouts before they head to the printer.
If you're regularly sending documents back and forth to other people or businesses, you can also save a few trees and save a little time in the process with a couple of office hacks. For example, rather than going through the age-old print, sign, and fax dance handed down through the generations by our forefathers, try creating a scanned signature and then sending scanned PDFs rather than faxes. It's quicker and it saves on resources and costs.
Turn Off Peripherals to Kill the Vampires
Now that you've put good energy practices into use on your PC, it's time to move onto the power-hungry peripherals you've got plugged into it. Whenever possible, you want to turn off any peripheral when you're not using it—like your printer or monitor. Likewise, you should be aware of any gear in your computing setup that draws standby power (a.k.a., vampire power) even when you've turned off the device in question. Vampires commonly stand out as large, unsightly AC adapters.
While you could diligently unplug your wall warts or keep them plugged into a power strip that you switch off when they're not in use, you can go even further and automate the process with gadgets like the Energy Saving Smart Strip (original post) and the Power Minder (original post), both of which monitor your PC's power state and automatically shut down other peripherals when you turn off your computer.
For more on saving energy at your computer, check out our top 10 computing energy savers.
Estimate Your Power Usage
It's one thing to know your computer sucks down a lot of energy every month, but actual power usage numbers drives the point home. Windows can install previously mentioned LocalCooling, an tool that both helps you tweak your Windows power saving settings and visualise the amount of power your computer consumes. Some users reported inaccurate measures with the app when we first posted about it, but the well-intentioned LocalCooling team continues in their efforts to improve the application and help you save energy and visualise the impact of your energy-saving.
If LocalCooling's not giving you accurate results or you want to get a more definitive look at your PC's power consumption, regardless of your operating system, this Coding Horror post demonstrates in detail how to determine and lower the cost of leaving your PC running (original post).
How Do You Make Your Computer More Eco-Friendly?
These are just a few of the many ways you might go about living the green life on your desktop. If you've got methods of your own, let's hear about 'em in the comments.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who's computer glows green all year round. His special feature Hack Attack appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker AU.