Computers and computing devices such as smart phones and tables impact negatively our environment in two distinct ways: in the the power they consume and in the waste they produce when we discard them. 

Saving Power on Your Computer

The Department of Energy estimates that up to 10 percent of the power an organization uses is consumed by computing devices. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to ensure that our personal computers use as little energy as possible. Here's how to change the power settings on Macintosh and Windows computer to minimize the power they consume.

Windows 10

You control the power consumption of a Windows 10 computer through Settings.

Click on the Start button, then click Settings from the Start menu. On the Settings screen, click Power & sleep from the left-hand column. You'll see the following screen.

  Screenshot of Windows 10 Power and Sleep settings

This screen is from a laptop computer, which has separate settings for when the computer is plugged in and when the computer is running on batteries. A desktop computer will only show the settings for when the computer is plugged in.

As the name implies, the Power & Sleep page lets you set how many minutes of inactivity will pass before you computer turns off the display and puts itself to sleep. You display is a big energy drain on your system, so the shorter time you set, the greater the energy savings. Our recommendation is to set initially a short Screen time: 10 minutes for a plugged-in computer, and five minutes for a computer running on battery. If you find the screen is frequently turning off while you are working, you can always adjust these to less aggressive settings.

The same goes for your Sleep setting. Set it aggressively at first--10 minutes for battery operation, and 15 for when plugged in. You can always back off in you find your computer is going to sleep to often. 

Mac OS

To control the power consumption of your Mac you need to access System Prefernces from the Finder's Apple menu. The click Energy Saver.

screenshot of mac os energy settings

Though the layout is of course different Energy Saver on a Mac is very similar to Power & Sleep on Windows. If you have a laptop, you be able to indicate how your computer will act whether it is on Battery or using a Power Adapter, and you'll be able to set the number of minutes of inactivity before the display is turned off an the computer is put to sleep. As with Windows, you should try aggresive power savings at first, and only step back if your computer is turning off its display or going to sleep so quickly that it interferes with your work.

The Mac has a few other settings available on the Energy Saver screen. We recommend that you check the option to put hard drives to sleep but leave the wake on network activity and Power Nap unchecked. 

Recycling Electronic Devices

Computers and other electronic devices contain metals and plastics that can harm the environment if not disposed of properly. The good news is that it has never been easier to recycle your electronics. Many retailers such as Best Buy and Staples let you bring in electronics for recycling no matter how old or where you purchased them. You can also check your municipal transfer station about its policies for recycling electronics, though these often charge for recycling.