Gallery: ASK INHABITAT: Which gadgets are the greenest?


Our first week’s ASK INHABITAT focuses on green electronics — and to deal with this often complex subject matter we’ve brought in Jennifer Van Der Meer, product designer, research consultant, chair of O2-NYC and sustainable electronics guru extraordinaire…

Q: Which computer manufacturer is most green? I’m going to be looking to purchasing another desktop in the next month or so, as well as a laptop sometime this quarter, and I’m not sure if Apple is the way I want to go, due to their low rating by Greenpeace.

A: We love Greenpeace because they are provocative and know how to spur companies to make bolder commitments to a greener future. That said – the “Guide to Greener Electronics” may be misleading in informing you about an actual computer or device product purchase.

The Guide is designed to reflect the demands of Greenpeace’s “Toxic Tech” campaign, and is focused primarily on toxicity and recycling programs of the manufacturers. Greenpeace does not evaluate products for energy consumption during usage, which has the greatest impact on a computer’s overall environmental footprint.

Check out this tool created to support greener government purchases called EPEAT. EPEAT was created to model the Energy Star or LEED method – with gold, silver and bronze ratings against a comprehensive set of criteria. EPEAT also routinely tests the products for certain claims, such as design for disassembly and energy use. You will find that there are no notebooks or laptops that merit the gold rating – but several that get high silver marks. Note that Apple, a laggard in the Greenpeace report, has several high performing notebooks and desktops when evaluated with EPEAT’s more comprehensive method.


Q: We’re refinishing the basement and creating a game room for the kids, and want to select our HDTV and associated stereo equipment first and then custom build any necessary built ins to house them. Can you steer us in the right direction to find sytlish green electronics for our new family room?

A: Reality check first – the electronics and home entertainment industry have been laggards in green design, so there are no leading brands or products that get high marks. That said, there are number of choices you can make to lower your impact.

1. Power off the phantoms
A number of appliances, especially home entertainment systems, are designed to be always on, to use power all of the time (even if they appear to be turned off). Common culprits are TVs, VCRs, DVRs, anything with a clock, anything connected to a network. A simple solution: use power bars that have on/off switches, and connect your entire entertainment and stereo system to the power bar when not in use.

2. Evaluate products for energy usage

There are no zero impact home theater systems out there, because traditionally electronics companies have designed for speed and performance rather than energy usage. Flat panel TVs typically use five times more power than the big boxes, particularly for high definition screens. This is changing, as eco-friendly becomes a TV industry goal. The EPA has been in a race to catch up to all of the new technology standards, and will award Energy Star ratings for HD TVs as soon as 2008.

3. Look for sustainable design to inspire innovative approaches
Rising awareness of sustainability is inspiring designers to rethink the products they are inventing. Take a look how the designers of the Wii reconsidered the importance of power consumption. Also, a DVR from TVonics and a soon-to-be available tree-inspired TV from LG.


Jennifer is a leader in brand and product innovation, and is a founding principal at research design house Risqué Consulting. A former Wall Street analyst and economist, Jennifer transitioned into the design industry upon graduating with an MBA from HEC in Paris. She has held strategy and executive management positions at Organic, Inc., Frog Design, and Fahrenheit 212. A leader in the green design community in NY, Jennifer serves as chapter chair of o2-NYC, and lectures on the topic of sustainable innovation.

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  1. minxlj May 17, 2007 at 4:36 am

    I’m surprised no-one has posted a link to Apple’s recent statement on green policy:

    It’s a good read.

    Btw Vance, I don’t agree that using AA batteries is as ‘green a gadget as they come’. AA batteries are terrible! But I guess we’re long way off of the wind-up version of the Neo 😉

    I’m hoping more attachments come out for the Solio solar charger: – I can already use this to charge most of my gadgets and accessories, it’s brilliant.

  2. Vance March 2, 2007 at 2:32 am

    An AlphaSmart Neo is about as green a gadget as they come. 700 hours of use on 3 AA batteries.

    Only for writers, though. No web or anything like that.

    (Looks good in red, too: )

  3. Jay Illingworth February 9, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    You should dig a little deeper, and find out about Green peace’s methodology – I understand that their research is based upon the environmental information on electronics companies web sites – hardly a thorough review of their true environmental efforts.

    In addition, you should know that here in Canada, 21 of the world’s leading electronics manufacturers have recently released, “Designing for the Environment”, profiling the efforts of these companies (including Apple) to improve their environmental footprint in areas such as chemical management and energy efficiency. These improvements show a responsible industry responding to consumer demands. The report is available here:

  4. Chris January 30, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Kyle – Actually Dell’s program only covers the carbon produced by powering your PC for three years. It does not cover the carbon produced by the manufacture of your PC, which by some accounts is greater than the amount created to power your PC for three years.

  5. Stiven (sustainableday) January 30, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    With that said, we need a more comprehensive sistem to measure how green an electronic device may be. It is true that the EPEAT system is better than the Greenpiece sytems because it is more holistic but it is in no way a complete measure of a products impact. In the case of the Apple titanium cased notebooks it is clear that there are better and more responsable material choices than titaneum but yet this is not measured into the equation…

    In genereal these tools don’t provide a holistic measure of all the variables involved in determining a products impact. For this to be more accurate we need to measure these products in an equation that takes into account the context of the whole sytem they are a part of .

  6. Ron January 29, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    The instructor at an energy seminar I recently attended mentioned he had visited a local electronics store and, with the store manager’s approval, plugged a number of their TV’s into a device he had to measure the amount of juice they pulled while off. The numbers were all over the board, some as high as 40 watts. Almost as alarming, that little piece of information was not available in the documentation. The power strip is a great idea but, man, what a hassle if the unit your controling has a clock. And doesn’t everything these days. Thanks for the info, Jennifer.

  7. Kyle Jones January 28, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    I’m not sure on manufacturing, but I was recently pricing Dell notebooks out and I found that for a couple of bucks they will plant a tree to help counter the CO2 emissions from the creation of your notebook. Pretty cool, eh?

  8. phil January 28, 2007 at 10:03 am

    “Greenpeace does not evaluate products for energy consumption during usage, which has the greatest impact on a computer’s overall environmental footprint.”

    not sure about this…the chemicals involved in electronics manufacture are among the most toxic KNOWN.

  9. FM January 28, 2007 at 7:59 am

    Hey & Thanks. A lot of handy info here, it’s a pity that a lot of products we use daily have yet to be “greened”. I suppose that time will tell, though. Until then we consumers have only to support the companies that take steps in the right direction in order to help the transition to a more sustainable culture.

    Oh and, EPEAT is a really nice resource!

  10. Peggy Farabaugh January 27, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Thank you Jennifer. We feel vindicated after spending hours researching this issue ;o) Your information and links are very helpful… just what we were looking for.

    Ken and Peggy Farabaugh

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