Don't leave it on standby! RAND Corporation's prediction of how a home computer could look in 2004

by Claire Goodenough

The Guardian recently interviewed one of Microsoft’s big cheeses , Rob Bernard, who’s in charge of making the company greener. He’s looking at all aspects of the company’s carbon footprint, including buildings, waste, transport and the huge amounts of server space they use.

Cloud computing is when companies share servers rather then having their own – a bit like us  getting electricity from a network, rather then having our own individual power stations – and his verdict is that the cloud is the way forward for Microsoft.

So what can each of us do on an individual level? Computers in the home are  increasing in number, and we’re spending more hours on them as well; but they seem to be lagging behind in the energy-efficiency race.

In my house we have a  laptop and a desktop computer, for two people. It’s not unusual for them both to be on at the same time, or to have them running all evening and weekend. They are used for a whole host of activities which include watching TV online, downloading films and music, playing what has been downloaded, actual work and (my current favourite) video calling.

Such heavy use of computers in my home no doubt means that IT is a notable contributor to my annual energy bill. And I’m not the only one. Experts expect our IT needs to work out at 45% of our energy bills by 2020.

So it makes sense to buy the most energy-efficient model you can find. Unfortunately at the moment it is difficult to walk (or surf) into a store and find out which products these are. Indeed, most IT retailers and manufacturers seem to ignore energy efficiency as a factor in their customers’ purchase decision.

Is that our fault, for not asking them for the information? Maybe it is.

This time last year, when I invested in my shiny new laptop, I tried to look into which would be the most energy-efficient. As a consumer I know that the information manufacturers provide can be confusing, and might complicate my decision even more, so having a label that tells me in a glance is very useful. The model I settled on had Energy Star 5. I took this as a good sign that the manufacturer in question met certain energy-saving requirements. But I’ve since found out that Energy Star 5 was a standard released in (and not updated since) 2008; by 2010 it covered a huge number of products.

Our Energy Saving Trust Recommended standard covers roughly the top 14% of Energy Star 5 products. It was revised at the end of last year to make sure it still represents only the best, up-to-date energy-saving products – but the list is sadly still small, and there are no laptops on it. Come on manufacturuers!

At the Energy Saving Trust we are trying to work with retailers to make sure that when you do enter a store, it’s impossible to  you cannot make an inefficient choice. We believe that retailers should not be able to sell you an inefficient product. This idea has worked in the TV market, and fingers crossed it can in the IT market too – though we have a long way to go. If so, it can make all of our lives that tiny bit easier, more efficient – and more money-saving.

Of course, it’s not just the products: it’s what you do with them. Switch it off, don’t leave on standby, turn the screen brightness down a little, eject CDs you’ve finished with.  If Microsoft has the power to make a significant impact on its carbon footprint, I believe we can do it too.