When it comes to considering eco-friendly computers, the environmental impact of PCs has never really factored much into purchasing decisions.

Whether you’re a loud and proud tech geek who worships at the alter of Steve Jobs or more of a newly-minted nerd that just recently graduated from the ranks of Luddite-dom, there are three things that most consumers look for when purchasing a new computer: sticker price (a computer, after all, is an investment), size (both physically and in terms of memory) and style (because no one wants to work from Starbucks with a clunky, ugly laptop).

But as eco-awareness of personal electronics in general grows, sustainability has become an increasingly mulled-over consideration.

So how can computers be ‘green’? Here are a few key things to look for when considering an eco-friendly computer:

Not to be confused with the EnergyStar program that rates home appliances and electronics based on energy-efficiency, the Green Electronic Council’s EPEAT program evaluates electronics, specifically laptops, desktops and monitors, based on their environmental attributes. EPEAT differs from EnergyStar in that while low energy consumption is required (in fact, a EPEAT computer must also be EnergyStar certified), additional focus is placed on the materials used in manufacturing, packaging, recyclability, and other standards that take into account the entire lifecycle of a computer.

For example, a computer sporting EPEAT Bronze, Silver or Gold certification will contain minimal levels of toxic components like lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants, PVC and cadmium and have parts that are made from post-consumer recycled plastic or renewable, bio-based materials. Sony, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and Dell all lead the way when it comes to EPEAT certification. And according to EPEAT, the environmental benefits of buying an EPEAT rated computer are vast. The organization says that consumers who purchased EPEAT computers in 2009 helped to prevent the disposal of 72,000 metric tons of hazardous waste and save over 10 billion kWh of electricity which is enough to power 900,000 homes in the U.S. for a year.

So what are some hot green, EPEAT certified computers?

For Apple fanatics, the new series of EPEAT Gold-rated MacBook Pros are being touted as the “world’s greenest lineup of notebooks.” These lean and green computing machines are super energy-efficient, highly recyclable and feature components free of harmful toxins like mercury, arsenic and PVC. Additionally, the MacBook Pros’ packaging has been downsized.

Then there’s the Dell Studio Hybrid, a tricked-out, pint-sized desktop that’s “designed to fit into your environment while protecting the environment.” The Dell Studio Hybrid is 80 percent smaller and uses 70 percent less power than standard desktops, comes with a system recycling kit and can be personalized with a variety of colorful sleeves including, most notably, a bamboo one. And on the topic of bamboo, as part of the [Natur.e] series, ASUS offers not one but two sleek and efficient notebook computers with handsome bamboo covers that eliminate the need for plastic, the U6V and the U2E.

Click here for a full list of EPEAT participating manufacturers to find the energy-efficient, toxin-free, easy-to-recycle notebook or desktop of your dreams. And remember, just because a computer may be smaller in size doesn’t mean that its performance is limited … great, green things come in small packages.

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