The power consumption is largely dependent on what type of processor (CPU) is used in the machine. Our IT team, Open Plan IT, recommend you look out for low power processors such as the Intel Atom which also requires no fan so machines are virtually silent. The 'Thermal Design Power' is what you’re after. It ranges from about 4w for some of the Atoms and VIA processors to over 130w for some of the Pentium D models.
Our favourite website for checking power consumption of consumer electricals easily is Sust-it.
When choosing a lower power machine aim for the best power consumption you can.
Using less energy
The amount of energy a computer uses is dependent on what the computer is doing. If you are playing games with graphics, charging or streaming video, then your processor will be working hard and be using more electricity than if you are just running a word processing program. But even when the machine is just turned on or ‘idle’, it could be using up to 100KW/h. Computers apparently can use energy when connected to the power supply even when turned off, so it’s worth unplugging them at the end of the day or turning them off at the wall. To minimise energy use the advice is to make full use of the computer’s power management tools (found in the Control Panel in Windows operating systems) so that it powers down and ‘hibernates’ when not in use.
Low energy desktop computers
According to VeryPC, the current typical desktop PC on the market consumes an average of around 115 watts. VeryPC make computers that use less than 30 watts. They only make the base units so you’d need to buy a monitor, keyboard and mouse separately.
VeryPC’s BroadLeaf PCs are BFR and PVC free. The basic model for home users, the Broadleaf BL43-H-i530 uses 24 watts when idling and costs about £600. It comes with a five year warranty as standard and comes with Windows operating systems.
Three chemicals are often used in electronics and have been highlighted by Greenpeace as the most hazardous – brominated flame retardants (BFRs), PVC and phthalates.
BFRs are used primarily in the plastic components, like the casings, but also in circuit boards. Several BFRs have known toxic properties, are highly resistant to degradation in the environment and are able to bioaccumulate (build up in animals and humans). Some are now widespread environmental pollutants, with higher levels generally being found close to urban and industrialised areas (in the atmosphere and rivers).
As well as being released from factories making goods such as electronics, these compounds can be released from such products during use, leading to their presence in household dust and resulting in increased human exposure. And when these products reach the end of their useful lives, some disposal or recycling operations (e.g. incineration, smelting, or the burning practices commonly used in informal recycling in the developing world), can release dioxins.
Dioxins are a class of chemical compounds that are widely recognised as some of the most toxic chemicals ever made by humans and many are toxic even in very low concentrations. The US Environmental Protection Agency’s 1994 Dioxin Assessment concluded that there was no safe level of dioxin exposure for humans.
A couple of widely used BFRs have been restricted by the European Union’s Restriction on Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), but not all are restricted by law.
PVC is a chlorinated plastic that is used for insulating wires and cables. PVC is one of the most widely used plastics but its production, use and disposal create toxic pollution. Like BFRs, dioxins are released when PVC is produced or disposed of by incineration (or simply when burnt).
Phthalates are a group of chemicals which are widely used as plasticisers (softeners) in plastics, especially PVC. These chemicals migrate out of the material over time into the surrounding environment. Many phthalates are toxic to wildlife and humans. Some widely used phthalates are known to be capable of causing changes to both male and female reproductive systems in mammals. Four of the most toxic phthalates are restricted by the RoHS Directive.
What about the companies?
Apple leads the way in the electronics industry having phased out PVC and BFR in its products, including its cables, way back in 2008. Apple products are also free from phthalates. So there is no excuse for other companies not to follow suit.
To get our best rating for a toxic chemicals policy, like Apple, a company must have phased out the use of all three chemicals or have set a date by which it will have done so.
Companies get our worst rating for having no commitment to totally phasing out all three of these chemicals. Companies who get a worst rating for toxic chemicals could also not get a best rating for Environmental Reporting. This affected two companies who would otherwise have got a best rating in the Environmental Reporting category – ASUS and Fujitsu.
Some companies get our middle rating for toxic chemicals because they have some toxic chemical-free products and have committed to phasing the chemicals out, but have not gone that step further to get our best rating by setting a target date for their phase-out.
Best toxics rating – Apple
Middle toxics rating – Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, VeryPC
Worst toxics rating – ASUS, Fujitsu, MSI,
Toxic chemical-free models
We checked all the brands and models that are covered in these guides to see whether any of them were PVC-, BFR- and phthalate-free. Those models that were ‘toxic chemical-free’, represented by a [S] next to the brand name on the score tables, received a positive mark in the Product Sustainability column. Models that were PVC- and BFR- free received a half point, whilst models that were free of all three chemicals received a whole point.
PVC, BFR and phthalate free: All Apple MacBooks
PVC and BFR free: Dell Precision, Very PC Broadleaf
‘TCO Certified’ is the international sustainability certification for IT products that was set up in 1992 and is run by a Swedish non-profit organisation. It is a voluntary scheme which is third-party verified. TCO certification combines requirements for social responsibility at the site of manufacture, user safety and ergonomic design, and minimal environmental impacts for the product during its whole life cycle. The criteria include Energy Star (a voluntary US government energy efficiency program), compliance for energy consumption, zero or low use of certain hazardous substances, and involvement in conflict-free minerals programs.
Six companies had TCO certified models - Dell Optiplex, Acer, ASUS, HP, Lenovo and MSI.
On the score table we have given TCO Certified models a Product Sustainability plus point, highlighted by a [E] next to the brand name. To find the model numbers, go to the TCO product database.