Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Green Eye for the New Computer?

A suburban greenmom sings “dies irae” to her beloved Toshiba laptop…
Chick Fil-A. Big in the news a few weeks ago, remember? (I know, in media time, that was so five minutes ago!)
Leaving all the rest of the passionate repartee out of it, there’s one aspect of that whole noisy incident I’d like to look at: the question of what we buy, where it came from, whom we buy it from, and who produces and creates it?
I can’t tell you how many times during the whole debate about CFA, political stances, boycotts, and so forth I heard someone say, “Oh for heaven’s sake, you can’t worry about every single company you buy something from, what they stand for, where the product comes from, and all that stuff, or you’ll go crazy!” And usually, right at that moment is where I’d enter the debate.
Because crazy or not, as far as I’m concerned, that’s where responsible consumerism enters the picture. Because once you start paying attention to that very batch of questions, once you open your eyes to the impact your purchases have on people and environments all over the globe, it’s hard to close them again. And yes, it makes you crazy, because so often there aren’t any “good” choices, all you can do is try your best. Community-supported agriculture and secondhand clothing is easy.
Replacing your need-it-for-work-and-life-circumstances computer when the old one dies—that’s pretty hard.
In about 2006 I bought a refurbished Toshiba notebook computer. It was honestly the best machine I ever used, it was fast and non-buggy and rarely gave me any trouble.  And in the spirit of the greenie, I have held onto it ever since then. I upgraded the hard drive, I upgraded the memory, I replaced the battery and then the AC adapter; every time it started getting frustrating and slow I figured out something I could do to make it work better without actually discarding it and purchasing a new machine. Then last week it…just kind of died. My husband the computer geek helped me confirm that the hard drive and all my data were fine, and to fully and finally back everything up so I wouldn’t lose anything important, and then he took it to work to see if his fellow computer geeks could figure out why it wouldn’t power up.
Over that long-seeming weekend I had time to decide what I would do if they couldn’t fix it. And with the “you can’t worry about all that stuff, you’ll go crazy!” refrain of many pro-CFA facebook friends ringing in my brain, I went into research mode.
I looked up a lot of websites, and a lot of information, much of it very likely out of date. In terms of labor practices, there’s almost no possibility of a good choice: they all seem to be made in China at the same few giant companies that overwork and underpay their employees and have them living in fairly squalid conditions.
All the major companies seem to have pledged to get PVC and brominated flame retardants out of their products, but many set dates by when they would have it done that are far in the past, and they still haven’t pulled it off.  Apple seems to be the only one who’s actually gotten a lot of the toxics out, and they seem to be more responsible about recycling than many of the others.  On the other hand, Apple seems far more into the whole “planned obsolescence” thing than most of the PC companies—with an Apple, everything’s glued together and in one piece, so there’s almost no possibility of just kind of replacing a part here, a chip there, a drive over here. It’s all or nothing.
So, for anyone in a similar position, I offer the links I discovered; please, if any of you have gone through this research yourselves, I’d welcome other links as well!:
Wikipedia’s article on Apple, Inc. (Don’t scoff. Wikipedia is awesome. You just have to look for references.)
Several links from GreenAmerica’s responsible shopper company database—for Toshiba, Dell, and Apple—as well as a general link about computer purchasing. (These all seem a little dated, though.)
The EPEAT website, a registry for greener electronics. They have a registry page where you can search for computers in the bronze, silver, or gold categories, or where you can look by manufacturer. A discussion of the criteria they use can be found here.
Finally Treehugger’s article on the topic is 5 years old (though not as old as my computer!), but it has some good perspectives. Including the first sentence: “the greenest notebook computer is the one you have and keep using.” Sigh…
So—I open now to the comments! How do you guys, my conscious-shopping friends, approach things like this where you’re sort of boxed into a situation where there aren’t any really good choices, only less-bad ones? And what did you do the last time one of your computers died? (Plus—an invitation to bragging rights for anyone who has a still-working laptop older than mine!)
--Jenn the Greenmom


SharleneT said...

Facing the same problem, I do what I can to keep green, but not to the point where I'm no longer living in the 21st Century. I garden, preserve,dehydrate, store my own produce. What I don't grow, I purchase locally. I use a solar 'dryer' and reduce water consumption. But, I think you have to decide what your priorities are for your own life and, if going online is important for your bill-paying, connecting to family, blogging about your products, etc., then you have to buy a product that will do the work. Planned obsolescence is hard to get around but buying machines that are buggy and always in the shop create different problems.

I used to love HP products but they've become unstable. I can count on Toshiba and Brother. I'm running a business and can't afford down time. Until these companies are totally green, I'm going to have to use their product. Incorporation of green into your lifestyle, as much as possible, seems to be the way, right now, until technology makes the changes. Don't be guilted by things out of your control. Get a computer you can count on and continue being as green as you can. You're still setting an example and doing the best you can. HUGS.

Julia said...

i had to go through this when i bought a new computer last year. my previous computer was 9 years old and froze too much. ultimately i went with a refurbished macbook because apple's green rating was acceptable, i didn't feel like sorting through all the options, and the thing that clinched it was that macs come with built-in music recording software, which i wanted. i do appreciate that apple readily sells refurbished products on their website.

i totally agree with you that we do need to question everything we buy and wake up to where it comes from. so even if you can't always find the greenest option, you are aware of what's going on and made the choice consciously.

Betsy Escandon said...

Here, here.

A few months ago I replaced my laptop purchased in 2005. I needed more RAM to use an updated software I use for work. I could have tried to install more RAM on my old laptop, but it was already having issues, and my husband (the technical partner in this marriage) didn't want to do that.

I stuck with Sony, b/c they did OK on Greenpeace's electronics guide:

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Sony! I've never had one of those, so honestly the brand hasn't even been on my radar; thanks, Betsy!

I realize that I never put the end of the story into the post: my husband's computer geek friend DID figure out what the problem was, it was a single loose wire connecting the adapter part to the innards of the computer, so he soldered it down and told me to replace the adapter again. I sit typing this comment on my beloved and happily functioning 2006 Toshiba laptop. :-)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eco Yogini said...

we bought a apple macbook- due to it's relative green rating, minimal metal parts and the fact that it will keep it's value... and like julia said- it's great for recording software.

but... my husband can't use mac due to his gaming hobbies- so hp it was... not a lot of green options there. :S


Blog Widget by LinkWithin