How to be a greener computer user

how to be a greener computer user

Computers don’t have to use a lot of power, but they still take their toll on the environment. By choosing a refurbished laptop, managing your use carefully and making sure you dispose of it properly you can minimise their impact on the planet.

Computers are undeniably bad for the environment. They can be power hungry, often for many hours a day (and constantly if, like many people, you don’t switch them off); they require a range of harmful chemicals to manufacture; they have a high embodied energy; and finally, at the end of their useful life, they are likely to become a source of serious pollution. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the harm they cause.

1. Buy a refurbished laptop

Laptops use around a fifth of the energy that desktop computers do, making them far cleaner-running. Not only that, but if you buy a refurbished laptop you are keeping an old computer functioning rather than buying a new one – which comes at a hefty price to the environment as well as to your bank balance. If it has been properly refurbished then the performance should be good enough for most users’ needs, and like a new computer it will come with a warranty to reassure you.

2. Smart power use

Laptops are more efficient than desktop computers, but they still typically use around 50 watts. Turn off computers when you’re not using them, and power them down properly – even sleep or standby modes use a little electricity. Make use of the power-saving settings provided by your operating system. Not only that but make sure your peripherals (monitor, printers etc) are turned off too; it doesn’t make sense to save energy with a refurbished laptop and careful use, only to waste it elsewhere. Flat screen monitors are far more energy efficient than the ungainly old CRT monitors. Decide how bright you need your monitor to be and set it accordingly – the brighter it is, the harder on your eyes and the greater the power use. More broadly, your power should ideally come from a green tariff, and you should minimise energy waste elsewhere in the home and office too.

3. Go paperless

Printing is tough on the environment, in more ways than one. Paper is a real problem; recycled paper is often grey-looking and low-quality, but good printer paper is often made from unsustainably sourced trees. Check for an FSC logo or equivalent when buying paper. Better still, avoid printing more than you have to by using both sides of the page, using duplex printing, printing to PDF and eliminating unnecessary white space (or junk like the adverts that turn up on web pages). Printer inks, too, are often toxic, so find something that won’t be harmful to the food chain and minimise your use.

4. Buy an extended warranty

Most laptops don’t last long: about four years is the average. A refurbished laptop will probably have a far longer life span, all in. Whether it’s new or reconditioned, if you buy an extended warranty then there’s less chance of it ending up on the scrap heap if it fails earlier than you were expecting.

5. Consider an upgrade and a spring clean

Before you rush out to buy a new computer, consider whether you can improve performance with a simple upgrade – more RAM or a bigger hard-drive, for example. Similarly, if your computer is slowing down, don’t assume it’s because your hardware is old and tired. It’s likely that Windows itself is to blame: with months’ or years’ worth of security patches and updates, and remnants of installed and uninstalled software left on it, it becomes bloated and inefficient. Extra RAM and a reinstall of your OS can often breathe a new lease of life into a computer.

6. Recycle your old computer

If you are getting rid of your old machine, then don’t just bin it – donate it to a good cause or a shop that specialises in reconditioned laptops. At the very least, recycle it properly. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive (WEEE) means that there should be local recycling points for computer equipment. Make sure you erase any personal data first.

This article was supplied by, specialists in supplying professionally refurbished and reconditioned laptops, at a fraction of the retail cost, since 1993.

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