Hold on to it! Tips for sustainable laptops

Hold on to it. That is by far the most important thing you can do. Fix it. Repair it. About 80% of the environmental damage that a laptop does happens during the mining, manufacturing and distribution stages. We’re talking about 300 kg of CO2, 1,200 kg of toxic mining waste, 190,000 liters of water. If a laptop lasts one year then every day of that year, 521 liters of water must be accounted for. If the laptop lasts five years, then its 104 liters of water for every day.

The greater the environmental impact during the manufacturing phase, the greater the importance of the longest life possible for the product. Right now, laptops are wholly unsustainable. They need to last twenty years. However, even keeping yours for one more year makes a really big difference. Hold on to it.

Once you’ve decided to get a new one, don’t hoard the old one. Because laptops have such short lives, it’s vital that they are not left lying around. Get your old laptop back into use as quickly as possible. Sell it. Give it away.

Buy designed-to-last and repairable. Focus on the warranty. Ask how modular and repairable it is. Buy quality. Buying cheap may save you money in the short term, but buying quality will help save the environment, because you will be buying better and more recyclable materials rather than cheap and unrecyclable plastics.

Buy the simplest and lowest technology laptop that still meets your needs. We very often get way more technology than we actually need. The more powerful the technology is, the more energy and water was used and waste occurred during the manufacturing process, and the more energy will be consumed while using it. Go low-tech. And try and get a laptop (or desktop) with the best energy ratings possible.

Buy the smallest screen possible. A screen can be the single biggest source of energy usage. When using your laptop or desktop, use one screen. Large, add-on screens have major energy and waste implications. Reduce brightness as much as possible as this reduces energy consumption. Do not use screen savers as they consume more energy. Make sure that the monitor automatically goes off after a couple of minutes of non-use.

Avoid heat. If your fan is working then a lot of energy is being used and waste created. Listen out for the fan. If you’re not doing a job that demands a lot of processing, then try and find out what background programs are putting such high demands on the processor. Often, you will find unnecessary stuff happening in the background that you can eliminate. Make sure there’s good airflow at all times. A hot computer is a wasteful computer. Clean regularly, and make sure there’s always good airflow through the vents.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
Listen to episodes