The Tech-pert: 5 Cheap Ways to Go Green for Earth Day 2011

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Earth Day comes only once per year (this year it’s April 22), but let’s be realistic: every day should be Earth Day. After all, this is our only available planet (for now).

Don’t you think we should keep it habitable for as long as humanly possible?

Technology can help–and so can you. With the right gear and few small changes to the way you work and live, you can save money, energy, and quite possibly the Earth.

Programmable thermostat

1. Install a programmable thermostat

This is an oldie but goodie, and with good reason: a programmable thermostat is a cheap and easy way to save both money and energy. Think about it: your house probably sits empty for the better part of the day, what with everyone gone to work and school. Why burn cash and electricity to heat or cool the house during that time?

Likewise, countless studies have shown that if you lower your thermostat just a few degrees at night, while you sleep, you’ll lower your annual heating bill considerably–while at the same time lowering your carbon footprint.

Programmable thermostats can handle all these heating/cooling changes for you. They can memorize and repeat multiple temperature settings, while also allowing you to make manual adjustments as needed–without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program. They’re easy to install, and prices start at around $50 for models with separate weekday and weekend programming.

2. Print PDFs instead of pages

Still using paper? Hey, this is the digital age! It’s no longer necessary to print a document just so you can fax it, stick it in a file drawer, or share it with co-workers. Instead, simply “print” your pages as PDF files, which you can then e-mail, stick in a hard-drive folder, or share with co-workers (electronically, of course).

Just about any computer program can produce PDFs instead of paper. In Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010, for example, you can save any document as a PDF (just look in the Save As menu) or turn it into a PDF e-mail attachment (by way of the Send menu). For programs that don’t have PDF-generation capabilities built in, you can install a third-party utility that adds a PDF option to any Print menu. I’m partial to doPDF, a free and easy solution.

Regular printing consumes paper, ink, and electricity. It also adds to the wear-and-tear on your printer. So the next time you find your mouse cursor hovering over the “Print” button, ask yourself if you really need a hard copy of this document. In most cases, an electronic version would work just as well–if not better.

3. Recycle old gadgets

Gazelle

During this year’s Spring-cleaning spree, don’t be surprised to discover a pile of old gadgets that have outlived their usefulness: PDAs, MP3 players, cell phones, digital cameras, and so on. Before you toss them in the trash, consider the harmful-to-the-environment nature of the electronics–especially the batteries–that power these devices. Trust me: you don’t want this stuff sitting in a landfill.

Fortunately, there are countless ways to recycle old gadgets–and maybe even pocket some cash in the process. Sites like Gazelle and NextWorth buy used electronics, and of course you can always sell items yourself on Craigslist and eBay.

Meanwhile, most electronics manufacturers (Apple, HP, Sony, etc.) and wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) offer recycling programs. To find out the particulars, check out Engadget’s how-to guide for gadget recycling.

Finally, if you just want to get rid of everything in one fell swoop, take a trip to your local Best Buy: the store offers a consumer-friendly electronics recycling program. Just drop off your gear and go.

4. Leave your battery out of your laptop

If your laptop spends most of its time on your desk, you probably leave it plugged in 24/7. That’s a mistake–and totally unnecessary. See, the battery continues to consume AC power even when the laptop is off. Not much–merely enough to keep the charge “topped off”–but it’s still wasted electricity if you’re not planning to use the battery anytime soon.

What’s more, keeping that battery fully charged at all times will actually degrade its charge capacity. Batteries need to fully discharge and recharge for optimum longevity. When it serves desk duty for most of the time, it rarely gets that opportunity. Thus, you may end up replacing the battery sooner than necessary–an expensive and eco-unfriendly proposition. (Replacement laptop batteries often cost as much as $100.)

The solution? If your laptop serves primarily as a desktop, pull the battery. Don’t worry: the system will still run just fine without it, so long as you keep the AC plugged in. If you need to go mobile, just pop the battery back in the night before so it has a chance to charge.

Green Genie

5. Hit the app store

Looking for new and inventive ways to go green? Yep, there’s an app for that. In fact, if you own an Android phone or iPhone, you’ll find a local farmer’s ransom in eco-friendly apps. For example, Find Green (Android) offers a giant directory of “green” businesses, along with local recycling centers and farmer’s markets. Then there’s GoodGuide (iPhone), which scans product barcodes to provide an instant rating on health, environment, and social responsibility. And don’t miss Green Genie (iPhone), your “complete guide to a sustainable lifestyle.”

To find more “green” apps, just hit your phone’s app store and search for any relevant topic: farmer’s markets, recycling, energy, etc.

In what ways are you planning to go green this Earth Day? Share your eco-friendly tips and tricks in the comments!

Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, “How to Do Everything: Palm Pre.” Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.

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  1. SavingsIQ

    4 years ago

    great tip on pulling the battery for the laptop.

    in terms of going green, recycling is always a top priority in my household.

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  2. Allegra.Ringo

    4 years ago

    Good tips! I just unplugged my laptop thanks to you. In terms of saving documents instead of printing them, Dropbox is a handy and free way to store and share files: http://www.dropbox.com/

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  3. Scotty_B

    4 years ago

    Don’t forget: If you’re in the market for a programmable thermostat, be sure to check with your energy company. Many times they will offer a rebate on these and other energy-saving devices.

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  4. Rick.Broida

    4 years ago

    @Scotty_B Great tip!

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  5. DSS_Austin

    3 years ago

    Others might think that when you use too many electronic gadgets that you not being eco-friendly but you can still enjoy the benefits of technology without doing harm with our natural resources by still being practical. it is not only during the celebration of Earth Day that we have to show that we care for the environment, but every day. While others recycle used items, some have their computer hard drives or paper shredded, we can also promote awareness with the use of our laptops and cell phones. Thanks for the tips and with everything that has been happening with the environment, we need more people to realize that we need to alter our wasteful ways.

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