The Greenest Laptop

The Greenest Laptop

Within the last 6 months, I purchased a laptop and had a very hard time trying to determine the greenest laptop taking into consideration by order of priority: 1) the least hazardous to me; 2) the least number of environmental toxins produced throughout its life cycle and 3) the most energy efficient. As of 2006, what is the most sustainable and non-toxic laptop on the market?

Gil:
Good questions, and yes, they are hard to answer.

Hazards. Potential hazards to you would primarily be electromagnetic fields (EMF). This has long been a controversial subject -- with national standards varying very widely. But driven by the more stringent Scandinavian standards, most manufacturers have reduced EMF emissions. In any case, a laptop -- with its LCD screen -- will generate less EMF than a desktop machine with a traditional (or I guess now "old fashioned") CTR monitor. (The LessEMF Web site suggests ways you can "shield" yourself to reduce exposure; I can't vouch for their information, however.)

Environmental Toxins. Here you've opened a Pandora's can of worms -- or actually, of heavy metals, halogenated flame retardants, chlorinated solvents
(in manufacturing); chlorine-based plastics and even "toxic dust." Toxic materials are endemic in electronics manufacture, showing up in batteries, CRTs, and chips for starters -- as well as, some argue, the bodies of the workers who make (and recycle) them. Hopefully this will be less so in the future, as the impact of the European WEEE and RoHS directives ripples through electronics design and the global supply chain.)

Energy Efficiency. Lifetime energy use of electronic equipment can be large in relation to production. Fortunately, laptops are energy-efficiency winners, according to Natural Resources Canada: "The most energy-efficient computer/monitor combination is a laptop unit. Laptops use a maximum of 15 watts (compared with 80 to 160 watts for desktop PCs) and automatically power down (go into sleep mode) after several minutes of inactivity." Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any comparative ratings. Expected battery life _will_ give you an idea of your laptops energy appetite, thought hats' a different matter than its energy efficiency.

I'll add a fourth question to your three: What's the toxic impact of your laptop at the end of its useful life? Is it designed for ready disassembly and recycling? Even if it is, will it be delivered to a proper recycling facility, and will it in fact be recycled. You'll have more assurance of that in the EU, where regulations require it, while in the U.S. you'll be more dependent on the kindness of strangers.

The Northwest Product Stewardship Council provides A Guide to Environmentally Preferable Computer Purchasing and a Summary of Eco-Labels and Certification Programs. No brand by brand comparisons, but plenty of links for your further research.

A couple articles of interest:

NEC Pioneers "Green" Computer (2003)

Notebook Drive Roundup (2005)

P.S.: Ask Umbra, on Grist.org, wrote about these questions back in January, but didn't find comparative data either.


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Gil Friend, systems ecologist and business strategist, is president and CEO of Natural Logic, Inc. -- offering advisory services and tools that help companies and communities prosper by embedding the laws of nature at the heart of enterprise. Sign up online to receive his monthly column via email. Read Gil's blog here.