I often think that environmentalism has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to technology, particularly for personal electronics such as smartphones, laptops, headphones and other consumer devices.
Nowadays technology is a part of practically everything we do. And given that everything we do affects our environment, it seems to me that sustainable technology is something we definitely need to be talking about!
The way we use our devices can have serious social and environmental implications across a huge range of industries. From energy consumption, to natural resource depletion, labour issues, carbon emissions and e-waste management.
And while big business and governments are responsible for managing these problems, the demand for consumer electronics comes from the general public, so we have a part to play as well.
With that in mind here are a few ways we as consumers can help reduce our tech footprint.
I’ve split this topic into four sections so feel free to hop around:
Energy Efficient Tech Habits
I already have a post on general Energy Saving Tips, but these are some tech specific ways to reduce your consumption and potentially save on your energy bills too!
Switch Off When Not in Use
If, like me, you have trouble remembering to switch off your devices, make it less of a chore for yourself by setting reminders and knowing the quickest way to power them down.
Don’t forget to turn them off properly rather than just leaving on standby, particularly overnight!
For devices that are plugged in all the time, such as PCs, Tv screens, wired speakers and Wi-Fi routers, a useful tip is to have multiple devices connected to one power strip or extension lead so that you can switch them all off at once.
**Note** Always check that you’re not overloading your power strip, as this can be a fire hazard.
Use Power Saving Settings
Switching off is great, but what about when you’re using your devices?
Conserving battery = saving energy, so here are a few ways to save.
- First see if your device has a battery saver mode that you can activate. This will reduce your devices energy consumption across the board.
- Next, activate screen timeout or sleep settings and set them to 1 minute. This will ensure that your device screen turns off and uses less power when left unattended.
- Turn off battery hungry features like GPS and mobile data if you aren’t using them.
- Close apps when you’re done using them and stop them from running in the background.
Here are some general guides for power saving on various devices:
Note that your personal electronics use very little energy compared to other household appliances, so you won’t see a huge drop in your energy bills from this.
It’s a collective effort, if everyone was a bit more energy conscious with their personal electronics, we would see huge savings!
Stop Charging Overnight
All of the above tips are about saving energy during use, but what about charging?
The average smartphone takes between 1 and 2 hours to charge, and there are even some that can be fully charged in under 20 minutes. That means for that for most of the night your phone is 100% charged but still consuming energy.
Try charging your devices during the day or in the evenings if possible, and leaving them either switched off or in power saving mode overnight.
Again, this is only a small energy saver, but this tip could also go in the taking care of your devices section down below. Because charging overnight has been shown to degrade batteries quicker, potentially shortening the lifespan of your device!
Taking Care of Your Devices
The most eco-friendly thing you can do with your devices is make them last as long as possible. Despite their complexity, electrical devices require care and maintenance. And like any other product, the better you look after them the longer they will last.
Clean Your Devices
Electronics can get clogged up and dirty over time so a bit of spring cleaning can go a long way. Dust finds it’s way in everywhere so if you can try to safely disassemble your device and clear out all the gunk.
A dusty and dirty device will be more likely to get clogged up and overheat which will hinder performance.
Ensure your device is fully turned off when cleaning, and check what the proper cleaning methods are. You don’t want to go pouring soapy water onto your devices circuit board!
Protect Your Electronics
After a while of owning a device it’s normal to get a little careless with it. But do try to be gentle when handling your electronics. While they ought to be reasonably robust, a device that is constantly thrown around and dropped isn’t going to last very long!
Some people may not love the look of them, and yes it’s an purchase, but a solid case could be the difference between a phone that lasts a year and one that last 3 or 4 years.
Learn How They Work
It’s difficult to take care of a product if you have no idea what makes it tick. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be an electrical engineer, but a basic understanding of how your device works will help you take care of it.
Knowing if your device is waterproof, what materials it’s made of, what it can and cannot do, these are all helpful things to learn.
This info will vary from device to device so embrace the internet at your fingertips and look up tutorials and guides for how to get the most out of your products.
Install Updates and Be Careful What You Click
Taking care of the physical hardware of your devices is important but so is taking care of their internals and software.
A broken screen is easily fixed but a device damaged by a virus could be more problematic and potentially dangerous (from a data protection point of view).
Install security updates for your devices and apps when prompted, unless you have a good reason not to.
Additionally, be careful what you download and what you click on when browsing or going through emails. If you’re not convinced it’s safe, don’t click it!
Anti-virus and ad-blocking software are both good ways to give an extra layer of protection to your personal devices.
Delete Useless Files and Programs
Similar to the physical cleaning tip up above, your device’s internal memory needs cleaning too from time to time.
A device that is full on unnecessary files and apps will slow down, heat up and won’t last. So, go through your devices and delete stuff that you don’t use.
Quick tip, if you see a file/app and don’t know what it is, DON’T delete it! Some of these files are important for the proper function of your device.
Repair Before You Replace
Finally, if you do end up having a problem with your device, don’t just automatically throw in the towel and replace it. E-waste is a huge problem and the components of electrical devices that are thrown in the bin are often hard to recycle.
I know that many people are all too happy to throw out an old piece of tech in favour of a newer shinier model. But it’s worth trying to repair it first. Even if you don’t plan on using it again, a repaired device can be sold second-hand or kept as a backup phone.
For small device issues, check online and see if it’s a known problem. Often you will find the solution is simpler than you think. YouTube can be helpful for simple tutorials and guides.
For bigger, more complicated issues and breakages, visit your nearest repair shop and see if they have an answer. Repairs are often pretty cheap, particularly when you compare them to the cost and hassle of a new device.
Recycling Your Electronics
When the time finally arrives to say goodbye to your devices there are definitely good ways and bad ways to handle their disposal.
Donate or Pass on
Is the device 100% broken or is it just insufficient for your needs? If there’s still life in it then why not donate to a local charity shop or collection. You never know who might find a use for your old tech.
Even if the device itself is KO’d, there are probably parts of it that still work perfectly fine. See if your local repair shop can use any of the parts from your old device.
If you’re planning on getting another of the same device, it might make sense to keep your old one for spare parts.
If you can’t find any way to reuse your old device, then proper recycling is the way to go. Search for WEEE collection points in your area or bring your old tech to a recycling centre.
Also check with your local tech retailers to see if they will take your old devices. This is something we’re seeing more and more of and is a handy way to make e-waste recycling even easier.
Buy Greener Devices
Once the time comes to buy a new device there are plenty of ways to go green from the start.
Electronics are a bit of a problem child when it comes to sustainability so it’s worth doing some research to find the most eco-friendly solution.
Decide Whether You Need a New Device
The greenest purchase is one that you avoid making, so take a minute to ask yourself whether you need to replace this device. Did you use it regularly? Is it a necessity?
If no, then maybe wait and see how you get on without it before rushing out to buy a new one.
Buy Second hand or Refurbished
While it’s unfortunate that so many people only hold onto their devices for a year, that means there is a huge second-hand market for electronics.
One of my top tips is to wait until a new flagship device comes out and then buy last year’s flagship second hand for a fraction of the price. You get a premium, well-made device which is only a year old!
Check online marketplaces like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Donedeal, Adverts and Gumtree for the best deals, but do be aware that if you buy from an individual you probably won’t have the same support and warranty that you’d get from a company.
If you want a discounted price and company support, you could check and see if any manufacturers or sellers of your device offer refurbished products at lower prices. Often you can get deals on products that were bought and returned to store, even if they were never used!
Check out my post on Sustainable Online Shopping for some more tips.
Buy Quality, Well Made Products that Last
When you buy anything, you should want it to last, so it’s often worth spending a little more to future proof your purchases. A little extra now could mean your device lasting twice the length of time.
Long lasting tech features include;
- Solid metal build instead of plastic or glass
- Gorilla glass or shatter proof glass on device screens
- Water proofing or water resistance
- Reinforcements on moving parts and hinges
- Availability of protective cases and covers
- The promise of ongoing software and security updates.
Do some research and read reviews to see which products have the best reputation for durability and power saving.
Demand the Right to Repair
Products should be repairable, and that’s something we need to start expecting of companies that make our devices. If the products you’re looking at have no possibility of being repaired if they get damaged, then maybe you should look elsewhere.
Features of repairable devices include; the ability to be disassembled, replaceable batteries and the ability to remove screens and other damaged components if necessary.
Again, check online and see if your chosen company has a good track record for repairing devices. Also see if there are online tutorials and guides for how to fix common device issues yourself.
Support Sustainable Companies
More and more we’re seeing companies embrace sustainable methods in the production of their products.
But there’s a long way to go and the more profitable these sustainable businesses are, the more companies will jump on the bandwagon. So, it’s definitely worth supporting businesses that make the effort.
Things to look for from sustainable businesses would be;
- Strong environmental policy with specific metrics and explanations of how they are reducing their impact.
- They provide the right to repair, as mentioned earlier.
- Excellent waste management throughout supply chain.
- They use recyclable and ethically sourced materials to help create a circular economy.
- They comply with labour laws, providing a living wage for workers in factories.
- Carbon neutral and offsetting emissions from travel and distribution.
Here’s a deeper dive into the sustainability credentials of some big tech companies.