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.

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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.


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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 stylish 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.

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Jennifer Van Der Meer, o2-nyc chair, Inhabitat contributer, green design consultant

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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