Green Computing for a Reduced Carbon Footprint

There are so many ways we can try to reduce our carbon footprint, and many of them often seem overwhelming and unattainable, such as driving less when living in a community that relies on private transportation. However, one of the easiest and least commonly thought of ways to reduce your footprint is practicing digital sustainability and green computing. “Digital sustainability and green computing” encompass actions that can be taken by individuals or groups to minimize the technology needed for personal operation or a business venture. These terms can represent a variety of different actions including reducing the amount of content stored digitally, using electronics for longer periods of time, and using technology more efficiently. 

Save Money, and the Planet 🌎

Grey Bose over-ear headphones on a desk.
My Bose Headphones

There are small things that we, as consumers, can do to support a more sustainable technology sector, some of which, similar to general sustainability, can also save you money! For example, repairing electronics rather than purchasing an upgrade every few years can reduce the emissions associated with your technology footprint, as the creation of new electronics is very resource and carbon intensive. On that note, you can also purchase refurbished electronics, which are often much less expensive and must meet similar quality standards to that of new products. I bought my headphones from Bose for $100 less than retail (plus a small refurbished product discount) and they work perfectly! Doing so allowed me to purchase an item I really wanted, while not contributing to the demand for new products. U-M provides an easy avenue to purchasing electronics—and other goods—secondhand through U-M Property Disposition’s refurbished electronic category. Property Disposition sells a variety of products that are no longer being used by the University, including Apple computers and super cool standing desks (which I would love to buy).

Where Do Your Electronics Go?🔋

Not only does buying refurbished or extending the duration of use for electronics help reduce your own footprint, but it helps prevent more electronics from going to waste. As only 20% of used electronic products are recycled globally, many that are discarded in the US are shipped to countries across the globe, like Taiwan, Pakistan, Thailand, and Kenya. There, poor and marginalized communities are forced to deal with the waste, through burning materials in an attempt to recover precious metals within the discarded electronics and are exposed to dangerous chemicals, including lead and mercury. Many of the workers are women and children, and the World Health Organization recently shared that globally, 13 million women and 18 million children work in the informal labor sector. Additionally, these chemicals leak into the environment, which creates more health and environmental issues that negatively impact the surrounding communities. Although this is a much larger and more complex issue than just simply not buying a new electronic, every step you take to properly take care of your current electronics prevents them from becoming e-waste and harming people and the planet. 

Less Screen Time, Reduced Emissions 💻

A much simpler, but important aspect of green computing is to reduce the energy consumption of your electronics, which can be done through a variety of ways. Reducing the brightness on your computer, getting rid of animated screensavers, and shutting down devices, including enabling sleep mode are very simple ways to reduce your energy consumption, as your computer needs less energy to run fewer or less resource intensive tasks. Another part of this can be to make sure to close apps, tabs, and disable location services all of which take up more energy. You can also switch to using a more environmentally friendly browser, such as DuckDuckGo, which disables energy intensive website cookies, reducing your carbon footprint. Another alternative is Ecosia, a search engine that uses ad revenue to plant trees!

Marie Kondo your Inbox 📧

One last aspect of green computing that is commonly overlooked is the amount of energy used by our inboxes. Like all digital data and information, resources that are stored online use space within the digital cloud and are supported by energy intensive, carbon producing data centers, which are estimated to currently account for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, similar to that of the entire airline industry. So, if you aren’t already regularly cleaning out your inbox and digital drive, a great way to get started is by checking what email subscriptions you have. For example, if you are subscribed to some consumer goods mailing lists that you don’t need, search for the name of the company, unsubscribe, and then “select all” and delete! Getting started can be daunting, even with something like cleaning out your inbox, but every little action helps! 


I hope you found some of these tips helpful as you work to reduce your electronic footprint. If you have any other tips or resources, please share them with us in the comments.

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