Do you care if your gadgets are green?

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I can recall a time about 16 years ago when I threw a CRT monitor in a dumpster because it didn’t work. It was one of those old monochromatic amber displays. Today I know that’s a environmental hazard because the monitor probably contained mercury and who knows what other harmful things, but at the time when something didn’t work the obvious thing to do was throw it in the trash. I certainly won’t do it again. More recently I’ve taken some old electronics to PC recycling centers in hopes my old electronics will be disposed of in a responsible manner. I bring this up because computer and gadget manufacturers are trying to get more environmentally conscious. The question is do we care?
Sony has used PVC-free cables in their laptops since 2007. In June 2008, HP announced plans to phase out mercury in its entire notebook line by 2010. Dell made a similar announcement in September 2008. Apple seemingly beat all the PC makers to the punch by announcing plans to eliminate PVC and brominated flame retardants from their product line by the end of 2008, along with a full product line of MacBook and iPod products with mercury free displays.
I’m certainly more likely to buy organic vegetables when I can, because I’d rather not ingest toxins. I hadn’t really thought about the potential toxins in my computer equipment until all the manufacturers started touting how green they intend to be. If I was presented with two identical computers from a technical standpoint, one made from more environmentally safe materials, I’d definitely choose the environmentally safe notebook. On the other hand, if I were forced to choose a more expensive product or an inferior product in order to be more environmentally responsible, I’m not convinced I’m ready to make that sacrifice.
To borrow from some over-used political grandstanding, am I mortgaging the environment of our children’s future by not buying green electronics? Or should environmental responsibility only be one component of the computer buying decision, especially if the net result is paying more or getting lower performance for the same money.
What do you think? Does it matter to you if your gadgets are green?

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7 comments

  1. I have to agree with your thoughts. I would like to make the attempt at a purchase of computer equipment that was “green”, but if it caused poor quality at a higher price, maybe not. I have in recent years made the move to the “green” idea, I no longer pitch old batteries in the dump. I now have a large bag of them that go to the proper disposal center when they advertise they are collecting them.
    Oh, by the way, Mr. Ludington, I live in the city of Ludington.

  2. I’m willing to pay a small premium for a greener product, but I won’t settle for an inferior item simply because it is the greener alternative. And actually, but choosing wisely, i think I’m opting for products that offer more longevity – so they won’t end up in the landfill nearly as soon as an inferior product – which may make them something of a greener choice, even if only peripherally.

  3. A good place to get rid of old computers (not too old) are the Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers (MAR). While MS supports these groups, they sell us XP licenses, and Office licenses , they are not involved in our operations at all.
    My group PCRenew (A division of the Rockland PC Users Group) has exceeded 2,500 units given at no cost to Social Service Groups, Head Start and some food pantrys for distribution to local applicants who can’t afford to buy a computer. This services an unfortunately large group, and keeps these units from land fills or wherever they end up.
    There are many such operations around the country, perhaps Microsoft could direct people to the nearest one to them.
    Stan Tishler

  4. @Stan: Microsoft does have some info on the web about their MAR program, unfortunately it doesn’t do a very good job of breaking it down by geography. Details on the Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher program are here.

  5. It should be noted that manufacturers are responding to environmentalist’s demands, not real environmental concerns. An example is the psuedo rage about PVC. Any real studies of the matter(by disinterested 3rd parties), conclude that PVC is environmentally benign, fully recyclable, and has a very long service life.

  6. “Green” is another marketing ploy, driven not by market forces but regulatory bullying. I will always look for performance and price, and do not care a fig about “green” issues. Wise disposal and lowering waste are good ideas – and profitable. Global warming is absolute nonsense. And the best thing that every happened to a tree is a baseball bat, a piano, or a book.

  7. Hi ! Here in Argentina, there’s been just recently interest on how to discard electronic eqmnt, as well as Old PC’s, monitors, etc. In Buenos Aires there are a couple of firms who take charge of safe disposal.
    On the other hand there are several organizations who refurbishs old PC’s and monitors, etc…,what here is called PC Recycling which enables schools, social organizations, etc to put into use the older hardware.
    In Buenos Aires we began to see ads offering “green pc’s” but their price is quite stiff for our average budgets. For most people a price range of U$S 1000-U$S 2000 represents 3 to 4 times the average monthly income.
    Even among people conscious on the envirenomental issues it becomes quite difficult to puchase the equipment
    I much enjoy your newsletter and find it very helpful. Keep up your good work

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