Environmentally Friendly Technology
Our favorite technology makes our lives easier and better every day. New technology is introduced all the time, and before you know it, we can’t imagine how we lived without it. However, with more technology and stuff in general, comes more energy consumption. How can we enjoy our favorite modern conveniences while still acting responsibly toward the environment? As it turns out, environmentally friendly technology is easier to find that you might have thought. Here are some ways you can make living easier and more energy efficient in your home and life.
There are plenty of ways to keep your home bright without using a lot of energy. Think about the light bulbs you use in your home. Replacing your standard incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs uses less energy and they need to be replaced much less often, saving you money on new bulbs and on your electricity bill. “Install motion sensors in rooms that you often forget to turn the lights off and dimmers in rooms that you would like to create a softer atmosphere for,” says Alyssa Hopper of the Green Building Alliance in Pittsburgh. Don’t forget about your outside lights either. “Put a lighting level sensor on your outdoor lights, or for even more savings, put them on a timer. There is little need to light up the front of your home past 11 pm at night and having them automatically switch off will not only be eco-friendly but it will also save you money,” says Erinn Rooks, professor of interior design at the Art Institute of Michigan and owner of Rooks Architecture + Design, PLLC.
Heating and Cooling
Anyone who lives somewhere with cooler winters knows how much of a drain the cold can be on your gas and electric bills. Going green doesn’t mean you have to shiver all winter long. Consider upgrading your heater to a more energy-efficient model and maintain it regularly. Simple technology like cellular shades help to insulate windows and let in natural light. “This will keep your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer,” says Rooks. Modern thermostats can be programmed so that the temperature drops a few degrees at night and warms up in time for you to wake up. You can also set them to lower while you’re out of the house.
Believe it or not, eco-friendly technology is for the bathroom too. Check your local home improvement store for energy efficient toilet models, which use less water. “Replace your toilet with a model that uses 1.6 gallons per flush or less, switch out your shower heads with low flow models and place aerators on your bathroom sink faucets. All of these water conserving technologies are eco-friendly with little to no impact on the user,” says Rooks.
With all of our MP3 players, cell phones, and other gadgets come the inevitable need to charge them constantly. Do a little shopping around and you can find companies that sell solar-powered chargers that reduce the need to plug in your electronics. Many people get into the habit of plugging in their phone to charge it overnight. However, phones only take an hour or two to fully charge, and after that the electricity is wasted. Newer phone charger models actually have an “unplug alert” that sounds an alarm when the phone is fully charged, so you can responsibly unplug. Some electronics producers are more eco-friendly than others, so do some research and find companies that offer safe recycling programs and use recycled materials in production.
Leaving your computer plugged in can waste a lot of electricity. Before you shop for a new computer, check to see if yours could be repaired or upgraded. This will reduce the waste of a discarded computer. Look for a computer that bears the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) seal. This ensures that the computer is durable, can be easily upgraded, and can be responsibly recycled at the end of its life.
Do you use a power strip to plug in your computer and other electronics? While these are convenient, they also make it easy to leave lots of electronics plugged in and in standby mode. Known as “phantom power drain”, the effect of leaving all these on will definitely show up on your electricity bill. A “smart” power strip will detect when an electronic goes into standby mode and will disconnect the power. This way, when you’re not using your electronics, they aren’t draining your electricity.
If you own a commercial building like a workplace, you can make an even bigger impact on the environment by making eco-friendly choices. “Move away from the traditional corner office design mentality and design the space with day-lighting in mind,” says Rooks. Doing away with the “window office” will eliminate light-blocking walls and create a more open space. Statistics show that this actually improves workplace productivity and morale. “Install motion sensors in the bathrooms, copy rooms and teaming areas. Often these spaces are not in use and the lights are left on for extended periods of time,” she suggests.
The technology to maintain commercial buildings has been made much more energy-efficient in the past decade. “Properly sized HVAC systems heat and cool the space with the correct amount of output. Renewable energies, such as wind, solar, etc. (whether purchased or installed) are being implemented in green buildings all the time,” says Hopper
When shopping for eco-friendly technology, always look at the labels. Is the product made from recycled or reclaimed materials? Both Rooks and Hopper emphasize the importance of choosing products with the Energy Star label, which can be found on anything from televisions to air conditioners. Other seals to look for include the Forest Stewardship Council (responsible forest management), WaterSense (conserves water), and Greenguard (low chemical emissions).
Erinn Rooks – Professor of interior design, Art Institute of Michigan, Novi Campus
Alyssa Hopper, Green Building Alliance, Pittsburgh