You take five minute showers, compost your kitchen waste, and ride the bus to work, but have you considered the environmental impact of the iPod in your backpack, the LCD screen you stare at for hours a day on the job, or the cell phone you’ll probably throw away in two years? Tech products may not be the worst offenders when it comes to tapping out Mother Earth, but manufacturers and critics alike have taken a good hard look at the way they’re produced lately. Here a few of our favorites from the new breed of so-called “green,” or eco-friendly, electronics.
HP Firebird, $1,800+
HP’s Firebird is the computer equivalent of getting the performance of a Ferrari with the gas mileage of a Festiva. The company used small, low-voltage components and quiet, efficient liquid cooling to keep down power consumption. The result: A high-powered machine that runs on a small 350-watt power supply – a stark contrast to the 1,000-watt power supplies some of the most powerful gaming rigs require.
Motorola Renew W233, $10 (with contract)
There’s more to greening up electronics than just slapping a solar panel on them, which is why Motorola examined the environmental impact this phone would make from start to finish. It starts off from recycled plastic, has had the carbon emitted by its production compensated for through carbon credits at Carbonfund.org, and comes with a prepaid envelope for having its pieces recycled yet again at the end of its life.
Motorola Renew W233
Plugging leaks in your home’s insulation can save you a wad of cash – and use less gas for heating – but only if you can find them. Black & Decker’s Thermal Leak Detector acts like a point-and-shoot thermometer: Register a normal temp by pointing it at the wall, then sweep it around potential trouble areas in your house to find cold spots. It can differentiate between 1-, 5- and 10-degree changes, depending on whether you want to find the big leaks or hunt down the little ones. And when you’ve spotted one, a blue light illuminates to let you know. If Energy Star’s estimate that you can save 20% on your heating bills by tracking down leaks is accurate, it should pay for itself quickly during those icy winter months.
Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector
Zetalux LED Light, $50
Everyone has heard of using compact fluorescent light bulbs to cut down on the wattage used by lamps, but these LED-powered replacements take conservation a step further. They draw only 7 watts, and can be used to replace a conventional 60-watt bulb. That not only makes them more efficient than their CFL equivalents, they also lack many of the side effects, like slow warm-up times, off-color light, and mercury that can pollute if improperly disposed of. Unfortunately, the do carry quite a price premium, running $50 for just one bulb.
Zetalux LED Light
The Energy Detective, $145+
They say that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, which is why The Energy Detective offers a lot of potential for clamping down on your home electricity usage. It displays exactly how much energy you’re using, in real-time, on a screen, offering a window into the wattage your house consumes at any given moment. You can even view your monthly utility bill as you rack it up, rather than in a lump sum at the end of the month, which offers an easy-to-comprehend incentive to keep those lights off and use high-drain appliances sparingly.
The Energy Detective
Sony Bravia WE5 Eco TV, $TBA
Just about all LCD televisions represent a major power savings over the equivalent CRT or plasma display, but Sony’s WE5 Eco TV takes things a step further. It uses the world’s first micro-tubular HCFL backlight , which draws significantly less current than a traditional CCFL backlight. The WE5 also turns itself off when it detects that no one is in the room watching it, and has a manual power-off switch that allows it to use absolutely zero electricity in standby. Sony says it all adds up to a set that uses between 20 and 30 percent less electricity than last year’s (already pretty efficient) Bravia LCDs.
Sony Bravia WE5 Eco TV
Solio Mg, $150
Let’s be honest: You’re not going to stop using wall chargers to keep all your devices topped off using only solar energy – and you probably wouldn’t save all that much electricity even if you did. But when you’re travelling, Solio’s MG solar charger is a much more environmentally friendly way to keep your gadgets charged when compared to the next best alternative, which is lugging a bag of disposable batteries off the grid with you. It’s also a hybrid charger, meaning it fills an internal battery when there’s sun, so you can charge gadgets even when there isn’t.
Amazon Kindle 2, $359
If you’re already reading your news online instead of getting a daily newspaper, and e-mailing documents instead of mailing them, why not kick one more paper habit by reading all your books digitally? The second generation of Amazon’s Kindle packs replaces hundreds of pounds of pulp by fitting an entire digital library inside, all of which are readable on an e-paper screen that uses barely any electricity. You’ll also save the fuel needed to drive to the bookstore (or have them mailed to your house) because the Kindle’s wireless Internet connection allows you to download titles anywhere. Just don’t expect to save much money for your effort: The titles are barely any less expensive, and the reader isn’t cheap, either.
Amazon Kindle 2
Dell G2410 LCD Monitor, $349
Now that many notebooks feature LED backlights to extend battery life, desktop LCDs are starting to adopt the same technology – to save on electricity bills. This 24-inch version from Dell makes up for its rather excessive dimensions with LED backlights that actually cut down on electricity usage by 50% over a comparably sized monitor. It’s also less hazardous after its useful life when it ends up in a landfill, because it contains no arsenic, mercury, polyvinyl chloride, BFR or CFR.
Dell G2410 LCD Monitor
While many computers require a power brick plugged into the wall to operate, this computer is the power brick. The SheevaPlug is so small that it literally fits into a (admittedly oversized) plug on the wall. Though it’s still a concept, the final version should consume only five watts of electricity, and could perform many of the same functions a normal computer does, like running a webcam for videoconferencing via its USB port, or serving media files over a home network.
Marvell SheevaPlug Computer