20 Simple Ways to Help the Environment by Using Your Computer

by Henrik Edberg

This article is a part of Blog Action Day, an initiative where over 14000 bloggers will write something about the environment on the same day.

When I’d signed up for Blog Action Day I did a little brainstorming to generate some good ideas. After half an hour I came up with this one and decided to stick with it.

I liked it because of its simplicity. And because one thing I and I think many of my readers use for several hours each day is a computer. Plus, many of the tips can – over time – save you quite a bit of money.

These are just 20 ideas on what you can do reduce the wear and tear on the environment. Some may contradict each other a bit. How far you want to take them is up to you.

Image by jimmyroq.

  1. Pay your bills online. Instead of using paper to pay your bills pay them over the internet instead. At least for me this has been a cheaper option too, since my bank has a lower fee for paying online compared to using the mail.
  2. Shop online. Instead of taking the car to, for instance, buy a couple of books buy them online. You’ll cut down on your polluting. And save money on both gas and the books since they are often cheaper online than in the store.
  3. Throw out your TV. Your TV draws electricity by just being plugged in. If you don´t use your TV that much consider getting rid of it. Or putting it in the closet/unplugging it while you wait for the Olympics or something you really want to see. You can watch TV-shows via DVD, Itunes or the websites of various broadcast companies instead. You’ll waste less electricity and time watching shows you don’t care for that much anyway.
  4. Throw out your stereo. Just like with the TV, your stereo uses electricity by being plugged in. And these days I don’t really use the stereo that much anyway. Watching TV, movies and listening to music has been simplified by using my computer for all three purposes. It doesn’t just save electricity, it also makes you more focused on using your time for experiencing what you choose. Rather than what’s just on.
  5. Find recipes and other useful tips online. You won’t waste as much paper and clutter up your bookcase as when you buy tip/recipe-filled books and magazines. And you’ll save money.
  6. Read your morning paper online. A lot of people want their morning paper in paper-form. Frankly, I have found it easier and quicker to just scan through it online. Plus, it saves a tree or two.
  7. Click ads and donate money. There is a whole bunch of sites with ads where the money goes to the helping the environment. If you for instance click an ad at The Rainforest Site a small amount of money goes to protecting a piece of rainforest. Another such site is The Ecology Fund. You may also want to check out Charity Navigator. It evaluates different charities and is, as the slogan says, a “…guide to intelligent giving”.
  8. Look for shopping discounts and offers online. At least here in Sweden, you can often find what’s on sale for the week at the website of your local grocery store. So I’ve put up a small note on my mailbox that tells the postman that I don’t want any direct mail, junk mail or similar kinds of mail.
  9. Throw out the phonebook. Instead of flicking through your phonebook do a simple search for the number online. I guess it may vary from country to country how well this works, but over here it has worked out really well.
  10. Find the quickest route. To avoid getting lost and to not use more gas than necessary look up where you are going before you leave. A few websites that offer this service are Google Maps and MapQuest.
  11. Look up bus- and train-schedules online. Instead of flicking through those small books with the schedule try to look it up online when you can.
  12. Download programs and games. Valve sells downloadable games online. Many other companies sell games and programs the same way. This reduces packaging, gas use if you normally take the car or bus to the store and the time until you can start playing (if you have a fast connection).
  13. Download books. You can skip CDs and download audio books directly from services like Amazon and Audible.
  14. If you journal, use your computer instead of a notepad. It makes it easier to edit your entries and keep them organized. Just don’t forget to backup once in a while. One good program for journaling is The Journal by David RM. It comes with a 45 days trial. Or you can just create your own blog. It´s free.
  15. Email what you can. Ridiculously obvious advice, but you can a save a lot of paper by emailing whenever it’s possible at home, at work and in school.
  16. When you print, print double-sided. If your printer has the option, print double-sided to make the most of every sheet of paper.
  17. Work from your home. If you can, try to work from home. It might be just one day a week but that can save you and the environment a whole lot of gas, pollution and stress. Tim Ferriss has some good tips on how to handle it practically with your computer and how to convince your boss to let you work from your home. Read The 4-Hour Workweek for the whole plan.
  18. Shut off the lights in the room. I’ve found that at night I don’t have to have a lot of lights on when I’m using my computer. I can rely on the light from the computer screen instead. Just don’t forget about the energy-conserving options in the next tip for when you’re not using the computer.
  19. Put it to sleep when you’re not using it. There are energy-conserving options for every computer. You can for instance set the computer to go into a low-energy usage mode if you haven’t used it for 10 minutes. It’s useful to check to check these settings after you have bought a new computer. On the laptop I’m using to type this, the screen was set to power down after 15 minutes of not being used. I’ve changed that to 5 minutes.
  20. Shut if off. When you know you aren’t going to use the computer for some time or you are going to go to sleep shut off the computer to not waste electricity.

Now, what more can you do with your computer to reduce the wear and tear on the environment?

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Dave Willison October 15, 2007 at 6:19 am

Nice post :) The only other idea I could think of is:

Upgrade your old CRT monitor to an LCD, they use less power!

Henrik Edberg October 15, 2007 at 8:30 am

Thanks for the tip, Dave. I’d like to add that another good reason to upgrade to an LCD is that it won´t take up half your desk like those CRTs do.

Fahad October 15, 2007 at 7:18 pm

Really a wonderful post. Its a nice way to help the environment through the use of computers and since the readers are using computers, they can really apply most of those ideas. Nice post!

Thomas Schueneman October 15, 2007 at 9:01 pm

Nice post, though I’d make sure it is clear that any old electronics are not simply “thrown out” but properly disposed of through a certified electronics recycler.

Henrik Edberg October 15, 2007 at 9:43 pm

Fahad: Thanks! Yeah, I thought that most of these ideas would probably be pretty painless to implement which is always an upside.

Thomas: Thank you for that useful reminder.

Eric Monse October 16, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Didn’t know your TV draws electricity just by being on. Gotta put it out for trash pickup!

Frederik October 30, 2007 at 10:14 pm

great article!
also, there are many software ways to save energy while using the pc. on laptops, which use less energy already, it is probably the easiest to find but exists on desktops, too.
just have a look under the energy-saving options in your windows configuration [not sure of the exact name in english, sorry] where you find advanced options for your pc. these include harddisk shutoff time, graphic acceleration adjustments [can use lots of energy] and also cpu usage adjustments [can also use lots of energy]. if you’re mostly surfing the net, writing and reading emails, you most likely won’t need all of a modern cpu’s speed, so why not just limit it to 60%, for example? these options are great to experiment with for a balance between comfort and energy-saving. and as a nice side effect, your pc might get more silent, because it produces less heat.

Victoria November 4, 2007 at 7:15 pm

Throwing out your phone book is a terrible idea!
When you are given a phonebook, there are a number of uses when it is no longer being used for research.
Paper machet
door stops
booster seats
craft and school projects for kids
If none of these ideas appeal to you, and you are unable to think up anything creative on your own, then PLEASE RECYCLE it with your newspapers and other assorted paper and paperboard items!

Johnny Daikon November 4, 2007 at 8:43 pm

I can’t be bothered doing all this stuff. Plus it looks better pulling up at the stores in my Hummer [H4] you know?? I mean on the face of it, it sounds amazing. But just because, what, 10 people don’t buy a newspaper in the mornin doesn’t mean they won’t get produced and the trees won’t get cut down. And i don’t trust this shopping online business either, theres geeks out there who know how to get your credit card number and all that, sneaky sneaky geeks. It’s also proven to be very bad for your eyes if you don’t have the lights on in the room whilst using a computer or staring at any screen. Don’t do that one.

CeCe November 5, 2007 at 5:27 am

I totally agree! I loved your article, and i believe 100% in helping our environment! The only thing I might add is time in the shower: cut the water when you shampoo and condition! Limit your time under the water. Trust me, I feel a much better person when I cut the water and use a minimal supply. One more thing would be to stop wasting money on weight machines and all that equipment when you can go outside and WALK, JOG, OR TAKE PART IN AN ATHLETIC TEAM – i luv volleyball =). By the way Johnny Daikon, my dad has the same worry about jerks stealing credit card numbers. If you don’t trust the internet then shop how you regularly do, and compensate by doing EVERY OTHER POSSIBLE THING YOU CAN DO TO HELP SAVE OUR EARTH!

Johnny Daikon November 6, 2007 at 11:03 pm

I love volleyball aswell but you have to have weight machines in the house, you can’t get a buff beach body without using weights. And after i’ve played basketball i LOVE a long, hot shower!! The whole team is in the changing room showers for upto 45 minutes, its very, very good for your muscles you know? I think sometimes we are focusing too much on the environment and not on ourselves. I mean, making the effort of walking everywhere, turning off mains power switches every 10 minutes, not leaving computers running all day – such an effort, don’t you think?? Even recycling, most of the time I just dump all my rubbish in the usual place, sorting out everything is a lot of work for some people with families etc, its unecessary 2 waste so much time doing these trivial things. I am a fan of emailing and getting bills sent via email, letters and flyers are such a waste of paper… everyone should try to email everything.

However at the end of the day, what do we make paper for?? To live in comfort right?? Hell, we should all just do what we want, we’re going to heaven soon, let the future generations deal with things! Take your car down the road to save those steps, buses and trains smell and don’t drop you off at the doorstep either. Leave everything switched on, you are going to use it soon anyways. All i’m saying is personal comforts should come first.


adam November 28, 2007 at 7:47 am

johnny, you are so funny :-)

“Hell, we should all just do what we want, we’re going to heaven soon”

..i find personal comfort in helping others though, in looking to causes that transcend my self. so i have redefined personal comfort in a way that is more in line with what [i believe] is right, and i enjoy it.


Percy December 5, 2007 at 12:52 am

All this crap up there is bull shit, I never turn off anything. If I’m going to pay $500 plus in rent, why the hell would I turn lights off or turn my laptop off cuz I’m sleeping. Bunch of BS.

Mark January 16, 2008 at 7:09 pm

I know another way to help the environment while using your computer… get a more energy efficient computer. Go to this link to read more about a computer that supposed to use between 5 watts and 25 watts. Much better than the 200-500 watts of a standard computer.


Uncle Ruckus February 10, 2008 at 6:29 pm

I agree with Johnny. If I save a plastic bag today, my neighbour wastes tens of them. Let the future generation with it. The world won’t die for another 100 years. I’m not gonna be around for that along.

Anonymous March 5, 2008 at 3:47 pm

I really like this title which teach the people the way for help thier enviroment
thank you and we want more than this for help our envirement and save our world

Rob March 8, 2008 at 6:32 am

I think that doing whatever you can to help the environment is good, there are pros and cons to using the computer for certain things, but if anyone plans on ignoring the future of humanity than that would make you just as bad as bush, you cant just vote and think youve done your part, we all need to be apart of one thing, just like the democracy and the president, its us and the earth, the earth doesnt treat us bad thou, but we all know how we treat it, and in turn existance. using a computer can help alot of things, you dont neccisarily have to buy things but it can be used and there are far more goods than bads… nows all we need is zero point energy and our own greenhouses.

Cristina Guzman March 10, 2008 at 2:20 pm

I like the ideas

Adrienne May 7, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Great effort!

I’m not so sure about your tip to shop online, however. You – personally – save gas, yes. But what about the resources and gas it takes to get that book or other product delivered to your house? It sometimes is much more costly.

Check out local thrift stores or used book facilities. Libraries are great because people share the books by returning them when they’re finished. You can even read books online much like your mention of doing the same with the daily newspaper.

Reading through some of the negative comments … some people are shamefully selfish. I thought there were people who just couldn’t find the time to learn and practice ways to reduce energy. But to see so many people that outright don’t care – and to even take the time to read and post to a blog about a topic they’re against… Craziness.

The more people who get into the mindset of saving a plastic bag today, the less people who will waste 10 tomorrow. We must build and come together in all of our individual choices.

Anonymous May 24, 2008 at 12:39 pm

thanks! very useful info

Bryan Migliorisi June 30, 2008 at 5:21 am

Another great way to use your computer is by using The Staga Network at http://www.staga.net – it lets you connect with people who live near you and give things away to them. The end result is less trash and the ability to re-use things that are probably not trash anyway. Plus, you get the satisfaction if knowing that the things you spent money on are not ending up in some landfill.

rawr October 23, 2008 at 3:02 am

um do you have any other helpful ways you can use your computer to help the earth

Julia November 15, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Yesterday in church we talked about a comparison between ancient Rome and developed countries like America today. Just because we are on top of the world at the moment doesn’t mean we have the right to do whatever we want. You will most likely not go to heaven if you’re as careless and selfcentered enough that simply turning off a switch is too bothersome. “Leave it to the later generations…” There will be no later generation if we continue to be as wasteful and conceited. Just because you are trapped in your own comfort bubble without a care about the rest of the world doesn’t mean the rest of the world shouldn’t deserve the right to live.If one day were to switch lives with those we are effecting now by “living in comfort”, what would you say then? It’s not about living in comfort for 95% of the world. For most it’s about life and death.Just because we are on top of the world does not mean we shouldn’t care for the rest of it. Great article! Very helpful non fuss ways to help the enviroment.

Jes extender December 25, 2009 at 11:43 am

Nice tips, more people should read this

mitch k booth July 27, 2010 at 11:48 pm

You mentioned throwing out several usable items; I would say give away or recycle, not everyone is on line these days. Just a thought.

Jen July 28, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Sending usable items (especially electronics) to the landfill DOES NOT help the environment. Sell them or donate them instead. Look into Freecycling too. If they are no longer usable, recycle them. Electronics are full of heavy metals that are toxic. They should never just be “thrown out”.

Using a computer without any lights on is indeed harmful to your vision. And shopping online might save you time and money, but the net effect on the environment is probably no better, and maybe worse. Think about how that product has to get to your door. How many airplanes and trucks are involved? It’s much better to search for products that are produced locally – that have less distance to travel to get to you. Buy food that is grown on farms near your town, or if you have room, grow your own. Buy clothing, jewelery and home décor items from local craftspeople. Or shop at second-hand stores. Many stores are run by charitable organizations, so not only do you get a good deal, but you help your community too.

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