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Conservation tip: Kill your screensaver

Business school geeks (like us) know Nicholas Carr as the author of the controversial “IT Doesn’t Matter” article in the Harvard Business Review. In his excellent blog, he sometimes touches on the mostly-unnoticed environmental impact of computer technology.

For example, he entertainingly dissects corporations’ Dilbert-like attempts to instill “corporate values” via bloated screensaver apps. What effect these screensavers have on corporate values is unclear, but Carr can put some hard numbers around the environmental consequences.

A PC with a screensaver going can use well over 100 watts of power, compared with only about 10 watts in sleep mode. An analysis by the University of New Hampshire indicates that if an organization has 5,000 PCs that run screensavers 20 hours a week, the annual power consumed by those screensavers “accounts for emissions of 750,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 5,858 pounds of sulfur oxide, and 1,544 pounds of nitrogen oxide.” Considering that there are something like 600 million PCs in use today…we’re talking some big, ugly numbers.

In another post, Carr discusses the data center energy crisis. He cites a paper by a Google engineer that predicts that, unless hardware becomes more efficient, within a few years power consumption will cost more than the computers themselves.

What can you do about these issues? For starters, make sure your computer is configured so that it can go to sleep when it’s not in use. Also bear in mind that power consumption of a laptop computer is about 20% of a comparable desktop PC. Finally, for maximum impact, you can try to raise awareness of this issue at your place of work. Small policy changes can have a big impact.

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