Earth Day 2010: Save the planet, save the world

What is a geek girl to do if she also wants to be green? In honor of Earth Day on April 22, Nicole Bremer Nash says she's working on a few things.

Geeks use a lot of power. From running computers that we rarely turn off to using smartphones, speakers, printers, shredders, multiple monitors -- in fact, though only one monitor is currently on in my house (the one I am using), there are at least two computers on at any given time. Even in sleep mode, computers use energy. Televisions use even more energy to run, so if you watch TV while using the computer, that's sucking up even more power. Really, anything that is plugged into an outlet is using electricity all the time.

But I have to use my computer, and my iPhone needs charging, so what is a geek girl to do if she also wants to be green? It turns out that there is actually a lot that a geek can do to help save the world, and in honor of Earth Day on April 22, I'm working on a few things.

One great option that I am a big fan of is to plug chargers and other electronics that aren't in constant use into power strips that can be fully turned off at the touch of a button. It's sort of like using a Powermat -- you can keep all your charging cables in one place, but it doesn't cost as much. When you grab your smartphone in the morning, simply switch off the entire power strip and save a little power and, thus, a little cash.

I admit that I was very suspicious of switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs -- the manufacturers claim the bulbs last longer and save you energy and money, but they are expensive to purchase. Also, fluorescent lighting, like that found in most schools and offices, usually gives me migraine headaches, and I wasn't too keen on the idea of introducing pain-inducing lighting into my home. I love the planet, so I gave them a try. (I'm also short and hate having to climb on furniture to frequently change lightbulbs, and I admit that was a factor too.) All in all, the fluorescent lighting is working well throughout my home. And since we switched, I never have to stand on a chair in the dark to change bulbs, which is proof positive that the ideals behind Earth Day are good for us all.

Tech toys often come in lots of packaging. If each geek takes a brief moment to put all that packaging into the recycling bin instead of the trash, we can save a lot of waste from going into landfills. Most plastics and papers, including most cardboard, can be recycled. Using the recycling bin also saves you from having to buy so many garbage bags, so you can save a penny and save the planet. Used electronics can also be recycled. While many stores like Best Buy offer incentives for paying them to take and recycle old electronics, many cities offer truly free ways to be rid of old electronics and keep them out of landfills. If you are recycling an old computer, I suggest that the best way to recycle it is to wipe it clean, load it up with freeware, and donate it to a kid or a teacher.

Composting is also a great way to decrease the amount of garbage you have to lug to the curb every week, and it recycles kitchen waste by making it reusable. Even if you don't garden (although we know many TechRepublic members are gardeners), chances are good that you know somebody who does who would be grateful to have your compost. Simply put a bunch of one centimeter holes in a plastic bin or garbage can (just make sure it has a lid) and put organic matter in it on a regular basis -- fruit and vegetable peelings, rinds, cores, leaves, grass clippings, and weeds that haven't gone to seed are all great compost candidates, but no meat or cheese. (Compost bins are vegan -- they don't like any animal products.) Keep putting all this kind of stuff in the bin and shake up the bin about every five days and, before you know it, you'll have healthy compost to fill a garden or feed the lawn with

Another way to show your green spirit is through your buying decisions. I have to give credit to the makers of Sun Chips and the makers of Method cleaning products: both companies offer compostable products and packaging.

Check out these great Sun and Moon Jars; they use solar power to create lights that can be carried indoors and used in place of electric lighting. You can purchase them from Think Geek, or you can follow these tutorials to make your own. I think making it yourself is fantastic geeky fun.

While the sentiment of Earth Day is lovely, and an annual reminder is necessary, I don't think that we can only worry about the damage we do to our planet on one day each year. Changes that might seem minor, such as switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, add up to big conservation when all the world's people chip in. And remember this Earth Day to have a little fun saving the planet by making Sun Jars or a new compost bin. As for me, I'm trying to figure out how to hook up a small decorative garden windmill to help power landscape lighting. Any suggestions?

So, this Earth Day, will you show your love for the planet by wearing a Star Wars conversation t-shirt, working from home, training users to conserve power, making high-tech art, shopping for a green gadget, or something else entirely? Let us know in the discussion.

TechRepublic resources about green IT

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By Nicole Nash

Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conduct...