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Greening Your Computing Practices

Updated on October 3, 2009
Switching to green practices is as easy as pushing a button!
Switching to green practices is as easy as pushing a button!

Green Computing

It is a rare day that ecological concerns and commercial interests can work in harmony, so you should be excited to hear that web hosting companies, electronic waste processors, and other for-profit companies see promise (and profit) in adopting green practices. Learn how you can enjoy technology with substantially less guilt.

There are multiple ways to help reduce the impact of your computing, hosting, and gadget obsessions. Whether it's environmentally conscious web hosting, buying and using old technology, or proper disposal of potentially toxic electronic waste, there are options available today that did not exist even five years ago.

Green Hosting

Webmasters are becoming increasingly interested in green hosting services as a means of reducing their carbon footprint. A data center of average efficiency uses as much energy as the state of Mississippi. It should come as no surprise that both hosting companies and their customers want to see improvements in that track record. Traditional hosts like HostGator are locked into non-renewable energy sources, but some are working harder than others to improve. I mention HostGator because they are purchasing renewable energy credits equal to 130% their energy use, thus offsetting the environmental impact of the energy they use.

Particularly if you are just managing a personal domain, choosing a green host needn't be any more expensive than other hosts. The small packages are competitive with the best prices of traditional web hosts, and the service is just as good, with one-click installs of popular web services. The efficiencies that the green hosts enjoy mean that they can offer excellent service at the same prices as their traditional competitors. In particular, Super Green Hosting has competitive pricing, one-click installs of WordPress and other popular content management systems and blogging platforms, and responsive customer service. It remains to be seen how these services deal with massive scale, but if you're hosting a single site up to a hundred, you should be able to shop around for a green plan that's reasonable and reliable.

Buy Refurbished: Save the Planet While Saving a Buck

Another way to reduce the environmental impact of computers is to take "reduce, reuse, recycle" to heart. To the "three Rs," you can add a fourth - "refurbish." There are many places to purchase inexpensive refurbished computers, often with full operating systems and software packages pre-installed. Even really old computers can run smoothly if you install Ubuntu or another flavor of Linux on them. Ubuntu in particular is incredibly lean, so it doesn't tax the resources of older computers nearly as much. It's also surprisingly easy to get used to, whether you're a Windows or Mac user - there's not a command line in sight unless you want one. Still, if Linux isn't your cup of tea, you can also find refurbished machines running Windows, or even older Macs.

But Don't Forget to Recycle

Some computers have just done as much as they can do. When they truly tip over the brink, there are many services that will properly dispose of them, as well as many other devices that you might otherwise throw away. Electronic waste is a growing concern in America and elsewhere because computers and cellphones contain heavy metals, and the insulation used in some devices can contain toxic chemicals or release greenhouse gases over time. Some will even pay for devices, because they can extract value from these recyclable materials. The EPA has determined that nearly 99% of the components used in a cellphone can be recovered for other uses, but only 10% of the nation's cellphones were recycled in 2007. We simply must do better.

Fortunately, good old capitalism has come to the rescue. Recognizing that they can profit by simply managing their margin in the predictable market for recycled components, companies like Gazelle.com have built a business model out of buying and scrapping old computers, cellphones, and other gadgets. The consumer can get a great return on an old phone, Gazelle makes a profit on the sale of the materials in the phone, and nothing toxic ends up in a landfill.

As awareness grows of the environmental impact that comes with the convenience of the Internet, we're going to hear more and more about the value of green computing, green hosting, and recycling electronic waste. Many people consider action on such issues a moral responsibility, others are simply looking for a good deal that doesn't come with a chaser of guilt. Whatever your reason, it's never been easier to reduce your carbon footprint with hardly any effort on your part.

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