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11 Ways Of Staying Eco-Friendly When You Use Your Computer

Using a computer is something that we’ve all gotten used to. Whether that’s a Mac at home to run our music, or Windows based POS systems in our retail stores, our usage of these monsters continues to grow. But what of the environmental impact of using a PC or Mac? It’s clearly a major one. Here are some things you can do to minimize power usage when you’re using your computer.

Auto Power On/Off works with all Macintosh systems that support soft power–those you can turn on and off using the keyboard’s power key.

1. Control the power.

What if your Mac doesn’t support soft power? Or you have a gaggle of external devices you also need to control? The answer to both questions is Sophisticated Circuits’ PowerKey ($110; 206/485-7979). This paperback-size box provides four surge-protected power outlets and connects to the Mac’s ADB port. Press the keyboard’s power key, and the outlets’ juice is on. PowerKey does not allow you to shut down by pressing the power key, but does cut power to the outlets when you choose the Finder’s Shut Down command.

The PowerKey lets you schedule not only power-on and power-off times, but other types of events as well. You could, for instance, schedule the PowerKey to execute a QuicKeys macro that backs up your hard drive, sorts a huge database, or batch-processes a folder full of Adobe Photoshop files.

Sophisticated Circuits’ PowerKey Remote ($59) lets you turn on a Mac with a phone call–it’s ideal for remote-access networking, fax modems, and digital answering machines. When the phone rings, the PowerKey Remote signals the Mac to start up, and the unit shuts the Mac off again when the communications session is complete. (If your Macintosh doesn’t support soft power–or if you want to turn on other peripherals by remote control–combine the PowerKey Remote with the PowerKey.) But there’s one catch: the calling device will only wait so long for your Mac to answer, so you need to use a utility to block unneeded extensions from loading.

Unless your system is a real power-guzzler, you might spend more for the PowerKey than you’ll save on electricity in the short run. But there are other benefits, such as surge protection and reduced wear and tear on equipment, that still make the devices worth considering.

Your Monitor

2. Go dark.

Turning off a monitor when you aren’t using it saves energy and prolongs the monitor’s life without making you wait through long start-up sequences or forgo dial-in communication.

Apple’s current monitors ship with a control panel, called Energy Saver, that powers down the monitor after a specified period of inactivity–the ultimate screen saver. Move the mouse, or hit a key, and the monitor springs back to life.

Berkeley Systems’ After Dark 3.0 ($49.99; 510/540-5535) includes a power-saving module named EcoLogic that powers down your monitor and, if you like, the Mac itself. You can specify separate inactivity intervals for each. And no, you don’t have to forgo the flying toasters–you can set up the infamous screen-saver module (or another module) to appear after a brief interval of inactivity, and have EcoLogic kick in after a longer one.

Your Printer

Printers impose significant resource demands of their own. The industry jargon for everything you put in a printer–paper, toner, and so on–would make any environmentalist cringe: consumables. Here are some ways to consume less.

3. Shop Energy Star.

Most monochrome laser printers today have power-down modes that kick in after a period of inactivity. Just look for Energy Star compliance–that means a product meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s energy-conservation standards.

4. Go ink-jet.

Compact ink-jets such as Apple’s Color StyleWriter 2400 use far less power than laser printers, and less plastic goes into ink-jet printers and their ink cartridges.

5. Print less.

Use page preview to proof documents on screen. Use the page-reduction features most printer drivers provide to squeeze multiple pages on a single sheet of paper. (The layout feature in the LaserWriter 8 Page Setup dialog box is especially useful for this.)

6. Use both sides.

Several workgroup laser printers on the market accept duplexer attachments that flip pages within the printer (see “Top Office Printers,” Macworld, June 1995). You can also print on both sides manually. First print the odd-numbered pages of a document, then flip the sheets over and print the even-numbered pages. For multiple copies, print originals as single-sided copies and then use a photocopier to make the rest two-sided.

A variation on the both-sides theme: Don’t throw away single-sided documents you don’t need. Use them to print first drafts, E-mail, or other nonfinal output. If security or privacy requirements prohibit this, at least recycle the paper.

7. Don’t pitch toner cartridges.

Don’t trash that spent laser-toner cartridge–recycle it (all major printer vendors now have free recycling programs) or refill it.

8. Conserve toner.

Working Software’s Toner Tuner ($24.95; 408/423-5696) extends cartridge life by printing draft copies in gray, using less toner or ink. If you’re using QuickDraw GX, get Peirce Software’s Peirce Print Tools ($129; 408/244-6554). Its InkSaver module performs a similar job, and its PaperSaver module provides n-up printing.

Your PowerBook

PowerBooks are designed around power conservation, so using one instead of a desktop Mac saves energy right off the bat. Batteries contain nasty toxins, but you can reduce their environmental impact by recycling them when spent. Combine a PowerBook with the following products to save even more.

9. Run on 12 volts.

Most home alternative-energy products–solar panels, windmills, and the like–generate 12 volts of juice to charge car batteries, which in turn supply power to lights and appliances. You can run a PowerBook from a 12V power source using Lind Electronics’ (612/927-6303) Automobile Power Adapter, which converts 12V DC into the lower-voltage DC required by a PowerBook. (One of these gems enabled me to keep working through a four-day power outage that struck the rural northern California coast during a winter gale last January. Even as 70-mph winds drove rain through the roof of his blacked-out house, your faithful correspondent was able to play Lode Runner–er, I mean, meet his deadlines.) A model that powers an Apple StyleWriter printer lists for $49. The PowerBook 100-series and Duo versions cost $69.95, while the PowerBook 500-series model is $99.95.

You can also use a DC-to-AC inverter to power your equipment from a 12V source. Radio Shack sells a variety of inverters, including big honkers that can power a small desktop Macintosh and monitor. Statpower Technologies’ Notepower ($69.95; 604/420-1585) is a compact, 6-ounce inverter that generates enough juice to run a PowerBook using the AC adapter.

10. Run from the sun.

You can get one step closer to the ultimate power source with Keep It Simple Systems’ (800/327-6882) Solar System series–solar panels that, in direct sun, generate enough juice for a PowerBook. The $229 Neptune Model I tested was thoughtfully designed. Closed, it’s an 8-by-14-inch nylon case less than an inch thick. Open it flat, and two amorphous silicon panels begin delivering 8.4V to a 10-foot cable that you plug into the PowerBook’s adapter jack. Models are available for all PowerBooks (and other laptops).

11. Recycle it.

And I don’t just mean recycling toner cartridges and paper. Donate old versions of software to a school or charitable organization. And if you work for a big business, recycle your equipment–too many retired computers and printers are aging in storerooms when they could be serving a school or organization that just can’t afford the latest model.

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