This article first appeared in our Ethical Shopping issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 30 October 2020. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
Before you hit ‘buy’ for a new personal computer, think about reuse.
Admittedly, the word suggests you might be left with a device that’s getting slower as the world of I.T. applications innovates, but this isn’t always the case.
There are options that can turn the electronic dinosaur you once loved back into an agile hub of productivity that will serve you for years to come.
Keeping a computer for longer periods is great for the planet as there is an impact for every device manufactured.
Data show that on average, the production phase – known as embodiment – creates 75% of your computer’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to the metal, plastic, circuit boards, displays, chemicals and batteries required for its construction.
Consequently, the longer you keep your device, the longer you are preventing new product emissions from being created.
The mathematics is fairly simple. If a laptop creates 150kg CO2e during manufacture and you keep it for three years, then annually the embodied emissions are 50kg CO2e. Keep it for two further years and that reduces to 30kg CO2e each year.
Considering we will most likely own approximately 20 laptops or tablets in a lifetime, this 40% reduction in manufacturing emissions – driven simply by changes to our buying behaviour – can individually deliver as much as 1.2 tCO2e abatement.
Scale this across 67 million people in the UK and that’s a saving of 80.4 million tCO2e – the amount of pollution sequestered by 105 million acres of forest.
Why wouldn’t we seek an alternative and not pollute with excess consumerism in the first place?
There are now so many personal computers that they are responsible for over 1% of global GHG emissions. That thought alone is enough to inspire ‘click wait’.
So what is the answer to reuse without disappointment? There are several ways to reuse a personal computer and regain performance without buying new.
Virtual desktops from companies such as Citrix and Microsoft transfer functionality from the ageing device and into the cloud data centre, retaining performance and productivity.
On a similar theme, Microsoft Windows devices can be transitioned to Linux-managed endpoints with IGEL to work with these virtual desktop environments.
Some of these options, while fantastic for reducing embodied emissions, focus more on the business side of computing; often consumers need an alternative too that is accessible, simple and (perhaps weirdly) free.
US computer software company Neverware offers such an option. Backed by Google, the company’s groundbreaking CloudReady Home Edition operating system is free, and represents a really easy way to transform your old Windows or Mac laptop or desktop into a high-performing Chrome device.
If you’ve ever used a Chromebook you will know this is a good thing. All you need is an 8GB USB stick, the old device and an internet connection – and in no time at all you will have what feels like a new computer.
Ewen Anderson, CIO from sustainability experts PX3, recently road tested the software; ‘With a couple of clicks and a USB stick I turned a truly defunct sub-spec Windows 10 laptop into a superfast Chromebook’, he said.
Imagine that: a laptop destined for replacement is brought back to life in less time than it takes to make a sandwich.
This one act of reuse has stopped the need for more natural resources to be mined, processed and shipped. And with one simple behavioural change, at least 150kg CO2e of GHG emissions have been avoided.
As the holiday season approaches and the gift list begins to grow, consider the sustainable option of reuse for you or your loved ones.
Perhaps, as you hover above the latest offer for a shiny new personal computer, pause, ignore the click bait and instead exercise a moment of ‘click wait’.