Green Technology
Earth Day: The State of Green Electronics
We’ve made big strides in energy efficiency and e-cycling, but …
April 22, 2009 by Steven Castle

Given that it’s Earth Day, instead of regaling you with all sorts “green” propaganda, I thought it would be interesting to provide you with my semi-expert but completely subjective “State of Green Electronics” analysis of—you know—how green our electronics are.

Not very.

It’s not that we haven’t made progress. Within the last year alone, the concept of green and energy-efficient electronics has gone from a marginal, still-sort-of-earthy-crunchy thing to totally acceptable and practically the norm. The new Energy Star specification for digital TVs raised the energy-efficiency bar by having qualifications for active or “on” states—as in when the TV is actually showing an image. And manufacturers of both LCD and plasma TVs responded with hundreds of Energy Star-qualifying models.

There are so many new Energy Star TVs, in fact, that a second tier of even more stringent standards may be considered. You can even have a green home theater—sort of—that runs on solar panels.

Electronics that are RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances)-compliant have become so popular that it almost isn’t worth noting any more. Many major electronics manufacturers make nearly all their products to RoHS standards for sale in worldwide markets. And the amounts of harmful lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants and other toxic no-nos used in our electronics are presumably on the decline.

Nearly everyone now knows what a CFL is (not just Canadian Football League) and that the compact fluorescents contain very small amounts of mercury. LEDs (light emitting diode) lamps are becoming more available—and they’re even more efficient and last longer. Most people generally know what vampire or standby power is and that they can stop wasting electricity with switchable or smart surge suppressors.

Energy monitoring, too, is on the rise, as many watch their electric bills or install solar panels and like to see how much juice they’re using without waiting for a monthly bill. The folks who sell the Power Cost Monitor that attaches to an electric meter reported a spike in interest after web titan Google announced its energy monitoring software development. A Twittering energy monitoring device even won the recent Greener Gadgets competition. We’ll all likely have some form of electronic energy monitoring in a few years.

Manufacturers have also gotten on a smaller packaging kick—which saves them money and resources as well—and they are offering many more electronics recycling options.

And this is just the tip of the green electronics iceberg.

So what’s “not very” green about our green electronics?

For one, all this progress really just a start. TVs, computers and a few other electronics may be getting more and more energy efficient, but what of DVD players, amplifiers, whole-house audio and control systems and the host of other mobile and home gadgets at our disposal? I laud companies like NuVo and Knoll Systems that make energy-efficient audio systems and amps, but precious few of other A/V products are truly green.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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