How do I determine or even quantify how much ecological impact my computer has? Are there established ways of doing so, or bodies that do this in whole or in part? I'm thinking of things like the energy it consumes, the heat it produces, the materials used in production, the involved transport, lifetime / re-usability, recycling of materials at first. But, what other factors need to be considered?

I don't want to include human labor (sweatshops) as I believe that would be a separate question.

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    This is a good question, but I'm pretty sure it's completely off topic. :) – Flimzy Jun 17 '11 at 8:51
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    Well, it is a question about hardware. – Daniel Beck Jun 17 '11 at 8:55
  • I asked first on skeptics, but they said I needed a claim to be able to ask there, and recommended asking here - I have more questions in this vein so if there's a better stack for it, tell me now! :) – david.libremone Jun 17 '11 at 9:03
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  • I think getting an exact figure would be difficult, but i'm certain that a computer has a vast ecological impact long before it even reaches your hands. Its shipped halfway round the world, and built of plastic and materials ripped out the ground. I don't know if a dell is better than an HP, but i'm pretty sure both suck for the planet. – Sirex Oct 7 '11 at 6:47

Energy efficiency is a common way of measuring environmental impact. There are a number of organisations who are involved in measuring and reducing the energy efficiency of computers:

Climate Savers Computing (CSCI) is "a nonprofit group of eco-conscious consumers, businesses and conservation organizations... [who] promote development, deployment and adoption of smart technologies that can both improve the efficiency of a computer’s power delivery and reduce the energy consumed when the computer is in an inactive state." They provide a product catalog of energy-efficient appliances.

Their measures include reference to Energy Star, "an international standard for energy efficient consumer products... Devices carrying the Energy Star logo... generally use 20%–30% less energy than required by [US] federal standards." (Wikipedia)

TCO Certification is a European standard for energy, as well as emissions (including noise), ergonomics and ecology.

(Both Energy Star and TCO Certification provide ecolabels for consumer awareness and certification.)

CSCI also reference 80 PLUS in their impact measurements. 80 PLUS is "an initiative to promote energy efficiency in computer power supply units" specifically.

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  • I don't know if energy efficiency is the most reliable measure of ecological impact, as I am sure there are other factors to consider, but it's at least a significant part of the picture and I couldn't find any more holistic organisations – david.libremone Oct 7 '11 at 6:21

Whilst you can get an electricity monitor (such as a kill-a-watt), there isn't any easy way to see the full ecological impact of a machine.

A machine can work for 10+years, it can be given away to family/donated and more... or it could break within 6 months.

You would have to open a computer, look at every component and contact the manufacturer to do a full report.

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  • good point about the components; I've clarified my question to indicate the level of detail I'm looking for ("what factors need to be considered", "established ways" and "bodies that do this") – david.libremone Jun 17 '11 at 9:09
  • A point about donated computers: A large number of them may one day end up in so-called "third world" countries where they will eventually be disposed of in unsafe manner. – AndrejaKo Jun 17 '11 at 10:56

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