Green technology is a broad term that gets tossed around a lot these days. Some people say green technology will save our planet from climate change. Others say green technology will generate new jobs and help the economy. Green technology isn't a magic potion, though. It instead consists of the methods, materials and techniques used for everything from generating energy to manufacturing nontoxic products. Green technology is the solar panel on your roof or the cell phone in your pocket.
No agency regulates which products can claim to be "green," and there are no official guidelines out there to define what "green" means. Here we're going to look at green tech myths that consumers -- all of us -- are most likely to encounter when trying to make green changes in our high-tech lives. When buying a new computer you likely consider the price. But do you consider if it's made with recycled materials, designed to be recycled (or reused), consumes less energy and generates minimal waste and toxic emissions?
It's More Expensive
Well, actually this one is true in many instances -- or it at least feels true. Take into consideration, though, the money you'll save in other areas when investing in green tech. Will installing solar panels on your roof save on money you would have spent on home heating fuel? Before crossing green tech options off your list because they pinch your pocket, calculate how they'll impact your budget over the long haul. The cost savings over time will sometimes outweigh the extra dollars spent on the initial purchase.
And what if it is more expensive? A study done by Forrester Research found that 12 percent of Americans (that's about 25 million people) are willing to pay more for energy-efficient electronics from environmentally friendly companies [source: America.gov].
It Will Use Less Energy
While green technology is paving the way to less energy usage, even the most eco-friendly computer, washer and dryer or light bulb doesn't have the energy-saving power that you do: Use less energy by turning things off.
Computers are a good example of this. Depending on when you purchased your computer it may or may not consume less energy than those manufactured just a few years ago. New computers sold with the Energy Star seal are capable of using up to 70 percent less energy because they ship with power management settings that adjust energy consumption. That is, if you use them.
It Will Be Easy to Recycle
Even the greenest gadget can end up at the bottom of your closet if the manufacturer didn't take its entire lifecycle, including the end, into consideration during its design. Some companies design for the environment, some don't, and most take-back programs in the United States are voluntary. Research whether or not manufacturers have a producer responsibility (PR) or take-back program before purchase -- anything from a cell phone to computers to car parts can and should be recycled.
Even if recycling isn't in the cards, there are still green disposal options: reduce or reuse. Can you trade it in? Some retailers offer price reductions on new purchases when you have a trade. Can you donate it? Organizations such as the National Cristina Foundation match your donated technology with charities, schools and public agencies. Or perhaps the product is reusable. You know, in line with that old adage, "One man's trash…"
It's Manufactured with Sustainable Materials
A computer company may make considerations for, say, take-back programs and power management but what about the materials used to make the computer itself? Seventy-five percent of the environmental damage -- including material selection and manufacturing emissions -- happens before you power it up for the very first time [source: Wray].
Most computer equipment is made with metals and materials that are hazardous to people and to the environment -- mercury, cadmium, chromium VI and brominated flame retardants to name a few -- and while some companies have pledged to remove those materials from the manufacturing process, they don't have to do so to call their product green.
It's Always Better than Conventional Technology
When trying to reduce our carbon footprint, many of us gravitate to the newest high-tech thing to hit the market -- it's sure to be the greenest option, right? And greener is always better, isn't it? Not always. Let's look at cars as an example.
A hybrid may seem like the better choice over a conventional car, and when it comes to a gas-guzzling SUV, it is. But when you're shopping for the greenest option, be sure to comparison shop. When comparing hybrids to fuel-efficient, gas-powered cars, the odds don't always stack in the favor of the hybrids. For example, the 2007 Honda Accord Hybrid gets about 27 mpg (11.5 kml), falling short of the 2005 Toyota Echo, a car that runs on gas only and gets about 31 mpg (13 kml).
Find out more about green technology on the next page.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Energy Star. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. U.S. Department of Energy. http://www.energystar.gov/
- Fuel Economy. U.S. Department of Energy. https://www.fueleconomy.gov/mpg/MPG.do?action=browseList
- Green Technology. http://www.green-technology.org/
- Horowitz, Noah. "Lowering the Cost of Play: Improving Energy Efficiency of Video Game Consoles." Natural Resources Defense Council. 2008. http://www.nrdc.org/energy/consoles/contents.asp
- Langley, Jancy. "5 Great Things to Do With Your Old Electronics." Popular Mechanics. 2007. http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/how_to/4221410.html
- Natsu, Paul. "U.S. Companies Embrace Green Technology." America.gov. 2008. http://www.america.gov/st/env-english/2008/March/20080313114547wrybakcuH0.3672907.html
- Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC) http://www.pprc.org/
- Squatriglia, Chuck. "Go Green - Buy a Used Car. It's Better Than a Hybrid." Wired. 2008. http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/05/the-ultimate-pr/
- Streater, Scott. "Busting the 'green' myths." Star-Telegram. 2007. http://www.star-telegram.com/645/story/244103-p3.html
- "Where does e-waste end up?" Greenpeace International. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/toxics/electronics/where-does-e-waste-end-up
- Wray, Richard. "Breeding toxins from dead PCs." The Guardian. 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/06/waste.pollution