Eight ways to go green

You don’t have to drive a Prius, have a worm bin out back, or keep a picture of Al Gore under your pillow to be concerned about saving energy and natural resources. I think everyone can agree that saving money is good. It just so happens that reducing the amount of electricity your computer, monitor, printer, and other electronic devices use is both environmentally friendly and economical. It’s also easy when you know how. Here are eight ways to do that and more.

1. Catch your Zs

You might have noticed that if no one taps at its keyboard for ten minutes, your computer puts itself to sleep. All new Macs ship with OS X’s Energy Saver feature turned on, and that’s a good thing. According to Apple, a Mac uses about 77 percent less energy in this low-power mode than when it’s running at full power.

You can save more by setting your Mac to go to sleep more quickly. Go to the Energy Saver preference pane and adjust the sliders to a level you feel comfortable with. (But balance your noble intentions with practicality—you don’t want your screen going black every time you stop typing for a moment as you try to come up with le mot juste. )

You’ll see one slider for the computer and one for your display. These controls allow you to create a setup that meets your needs—for example, you could set your monitor to go to sleep after a short period of inactivity, but leave the computer itself running to perform background tasks.

Laptops have two sets of Energy Saver settings—one for when they’re connected to a power adapter and another for when they’re running on battery power. Select the Put The Hard Disk(s) To Sleep Whenever Possible option to get the best battery life, but be aware that you’ll have to wait a few seconds for the drive to spin up again after it goes to sleep.

If you’re skeptical that using Energy Saver options makes a difference, take a look at Apple’s Energy Usage Calculator. Here you can get a good idea of how much money the Energy Saver features save you on electricity per year. (Check your electricity bill to find out how much you spend per kilowatt.) For example, if you have a new 20-inch iMac that you use actively for eight hours a day, five days a week, and if your electricity costs 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), the Energy Saver default settings will save you $54 a year.

People who manage a lot of computers can really see savings add up. If you’re an administrator who wants more control over when your computers go to sleep, shut down, and start up, take a look at Faronics’ Power Save ($10 per computer). Among other things, this utility lets you create custom inactivity settings based on CPU, network, and hard-disk usage.

2. Turn everything off when you’re done

While OS X is stable enough to run for extended periods without being restarted, you probably don’t need to leave your Mac on unless you’re running a server or need to access it remotely. By turning off your computer instead of leaving it in sleep mode when you leave the office, you can save about 40 watt-hours per day. That adds up to 4 cents a day, or $14 per year, at the 2005 U.S. average cost of 9.45 cents per kWh.

If you don’t want to waste time waiting for your computer to start up, set it to turn on automatically a few minutes before you arrive at the office. Go to the Energy Saver preference pane, click on Schedule, and choose the Start Up Or Wake option. Then use the pop-up menus to choose what days of the week and what time you want your Mac to boot up. You can also schedule your computer to shut down—a good option if you like to leave it on for a while after you leave the office, so your backup program can run.

3. Stop leaking power

When you shut off your computer and the monitor goes black, your display is actually in standby mode, waiting for the computer to turn back on. In this mode, an Apple 20-inch monitor uses 0.7 watts. And you may be surprised to find out that those camera, cell phone, and iPod power adapters you leave plugged in all the time suck power from the outlet even after you’ve disconnected the devices you were charging. As long as you leave the adapter plugged in, you’re losing an average of two watts.

It’s not too difficult to unplug your cell phone charger when you’re done, but unplugging your monitor every day can be a pain. An easier solution is to connect all the peripherals you use regularly to a power strip and then turn the strip off at the end of the day. You can even automate this task with a programmable power strip, such as Sophisticated Circuits’ $200 PowerKey Pro USB 650 (   ).

Turning off all your equipment at night can cut annual energy usage by 100 to 400 kWh per computer, according to Michele Krim of the Office of Sustainable Development in Portland, Oregon. In the United States, that’s an average savings of $24 per year.

4. Use a flat-panel display

If you still have an old-fashioned cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitor, here’s another good reason to think about switching to an LCD: Flat-panel monitors use one-third as much energy—a typical LCD requires 25 watts; a CRT, 75. CRTs need more energy because they require constant power to illuminate the phosphors that produce images on screen.

5. Be an Energy Star

Buying a flat-panel monitor isn’t the only way to conserve power when it comes to peripherals. Look for the familiar Energy Star logo whenever you purchase printers, fax machines, scanners, and other products.

Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, sets standards for energy-efficient products. To get the Energy Star stamp of approval, products have to meet certain guidelines—for instance, by having a low-power sleep mode that engages after a period of inactivity.

These requirements can translate into substantial energy savings. According to the Energy Star site, an Energy Star-compliant scanner may use as much as 50 percent less energy than a noncompliant one. Energy Star printers can use as much as 60 percent less. The Energy Star site makes it easy to find products that meet the guidelines; it lets you search by category, brand, and feature. All of Apple’s computers meet Energy Star standards (Check for specifications ), so you’re off to a good start.

6. Go pure digital

You can save time, money, and natural resources by keeping digital files digital. Think twice before printing out and filing e-mail messages or documents. Instead, read them on screen and store them on your hard drive. Likewise, save PDF files of your online purchase receipts instead of printing them out.

OS X 10.4 (Tiger) made saving receipts more convenient with its Web Receipts folder in the Documents folder. Select File: Print, click on the PDF pop-up menu in the dialog box, and choose Save PDF To Web Receipt Folder. This not only saves paper but also lets you easily find a receipt whenever you need it.

It’s true that you need backups of important files, but that’s why you back up your hard drive. See Easy Mac Backups for strategies and tips.

7. Let your keyboard do the flying

Traveling not only requires that you spend money on plane tickets, lodging, and the like, but also includes a hidden cost. The average cross-country passenger-plane flight adds about one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the air— per passenger. You can use the online CO2 calculator at macworld.com/ 2576 to more accurately estimate a particular trip’s impact (see “Emissions Calculator”).

When you need face time with far-off clients or colleagues, consider using technology to span the distance. With a high-speed Internet connection, iChat AV, and an iSight or a video camera, you can easily set up a simple videoconference. You’ll get the benefit of reading facial expressions without the hassle, expense, and emissions involved with traveling.

If you simply have to fly but are concerned about the CO2 you’ll create, consider donating to an organ-ization such as Native Energy or TerraPass. These companies calculate your impact and suggest a monetary donation—which goes toward projects such as building renewable energy sources or planting trees—to off-set it.

8. Recycle

Consumer electronics and computers contain toxic materials, such as lead, that can seep into the ground if dumped improperly. You can’t just put this “technotrash” on the curb in most states, but you do have options other than turning your attic into an Apple history museum.

Take your old iPod to an Apple retail store for recycling, and you’ll receive a 10 percent discount off the price of a new one. Apple will recycle your old computers and monitors—regardless of the manufacturer—for free when you purchase a new Mac from an Apple Store or from the online Apple Store. (More details.) Education customers can participate in the Trade-In and Recycle Program. Corporate customers can contact irecycle@apple.com for the Apple Corporate Recycling program.

Another option is to donate your old Mac to a school or a nonprofit organization—you can usually get a tax write-off for your trouble. See the Electronic Industries Alliance for a state-by-state database of reuse, recycling, and donation programs.

Efficiency Check: With Smarthome’s $30 Kill A Watt, you can find out how efficient your current peripherals are. Plug this device into an outlet and then plug an appliance into it. The Kill A Watt displays how much electricity the appliance gobbles up per hour.Emissions Calculator: The hidden cost of flying is the CO2 your flight produces. Get an estimate of a particular trip’s impact at sites such as TerraPass.

Automate your backups

Don’t want to buy a backup program? Tired of waiting for OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and Time Machine? You’ve already got a program that can help you do basic backups and protect your data—Automator. Here’s how to put it to use.

Create two folders—a source folder on your startup drive and a destination folder on an external volume (this can be another internal hard drive, an external FireWire or USB drive, or even a USB key drive). Then download and install Ben Long’s Backup Folder Automator Action. Launch Automator (/Applications), select the Finder item in the Library list, and drag Get Specified Finder Items from the Action list to the workflow pane. Click on the plus sign (+) button and navigate to the first folder. Click on the plus sign again and navigate to the second folder.

Drag the Backup Folder action from the Action list to below the first action in the workflow pane. Select First Folder Into Second Folder from the Back Up pop-up menu. Choose File: Save As Plug-in, and name your workflow

Backup
in the resulting sheet. Choose iCal Alarm from the Plug-in For pop-up menu, and click on Save. iCal will open, and an iCal event that triggers your backup workflow will be created. In the alarm portion of the event, choose the time when you’d like to back up your files. Now hold down the option key and drag this event to each day on your calendar when you’d like to back up the files in the source folder to the destination folder. Be sure to drop the desired files and folders into the source folder so the system can automatically back them up later.— Christopher Breen

The sunny side of power

If you’re seeking clean power for energy-hungry gadgets, consider looking to the sun. Solar power is renewable and free. It’s also a good way to charge up when you’re far from outlets. Here are a few interesting solar chargers for laptops and small electronic devices. (Be aware that you need direct sunlight to get a good charge with these products—cloudy skies and reflections on windows can interfere.)

The $350 Notepower 22, from Sierra Solar, consists of three solar panels inside a convenient messenger bag, and it weighs just six pounds. The charger doesn’t generate enough electricity to power your laptop, but it will replenish your laptop’s batteries or any 12-volt rechargeable batteries.

If you want to charge only devices such as iPods, smart phones, and digital cameras, you can choose a less expensive charger that will fit in your hand—for example, the $100 Solio charger (pictured top), from Better Energy Systems, or the $56 SC002, from Solar Style. One great thing about these little chargers is that they have batteries— fill them up while the sun is shining (or by using a conventional outlet) and then power your gadget whenever you need to.

[ Michael Gowan is a freelance writer who tries to practice as he preaches, as much as he can. ]

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