The Nature Conservancy logo. Protecting nature. Preserving life.If you’re like me, then you use a computer and write for The Nature Conservancy. And like me, you wistfully recall a time when the only people who had computers were astronauts, chess masters and captains of industry. “The past,” as they say, “is past.” Or maybe “passed.”

Long gone are the days of Jukt Micronic’s infamous Sequoia laptop, a redwood-encased notebook device boasting scrimshaw keys and an ivory-lined CD-ROM drive. Floppy diskettes, once woven from thousands of wafer-thin layers of French moleskin, are now baroquely known as “USB drives” and are constructed from modern alloys of plastic, steel and synthetic wood. Wither Magnetbox’s notorious die-cast dot matrix printer? Consigned to the dustbin of nostalgia, along with disposable keyboards and asbestos modems.

Luckily, today’s computists are far more savvy about the environment. They demand wares — both  hard and soft — that dovetail with a“conservation ethos” seeded in computer labs and nurtured to blossom in chat rooms and Web forums. But whether you compute in home, an office or a home office, there are simple ways you, too, can protect Motherboard Earth.

Reduce and Reuse

One of the simplest “green computing” measures you can take is to reduce your amount of digital space. For instance, limit the number of new folders or files you create. Rename an unwanted folder instead of creating a new one, or write over an old document to save space. If you must create a new folder, opt for one made of FSC-certified e-materials.

When beginning a new project in Microsoft Word or Excel, be mindful of the impact your document will have on the planet. Choose the smallest font size possible, even if it means overriding the defaults. Widen the margins to create a larger writing space. Together, those simple steps can result in up to 40 percent fewer screen pages — 50 percent fewer in print preview mode!

As a welcome side-effect, limiting the number of files and folders — not to mention draining the battery before travel — keeps a laptop lighter, making it less of a burden to carry.

Search-engine emissions standards haven’t changed much since the days of Netscape, but though technology may be lagging behind public sentiment, it won’t be long before users have the option of using hybrid search engines. Until then, try to keep your e-footprint small by only visiting web addresses within a 50-mile radius of your computer.


When it comes to disposing of electronic waste — the deleted messages, documents and files that form the detritus of a typical system — the computing powers-that-be are oddly inconsistent.

Most PC-based operating systems offer users the option of recycling such items in a desktop bin, while the otherwise progressive Apple systems still cling to dated and unsustainable trash cans. And while it’s easy enough to recycle PC desktop matter, word processing, e-mail and accounting programs still require users to “trash” unwanted data without an easy recycling alternative.

At The Nature Conservancy, we advise computists to load trash files onto portable drives, transfer them to PC-based systems and then manually recycle the data. Time-consuming, perhaps, but worth it. It’s important to remember that not all computer data is recyclable, though. Tweets and IMs should, whenever possible, be composted.

Think Organic

Few things are worse for cyberspace than viruses. From Trojan horses and blaster worms that compete with native species for precious nutrients to rampant overphishing of personal resources, invasive viruses threaten the very fabric of our digital world.

And while prescribed firewalls can be an effective means of control, vigilant monitoring is the safest way to keep these meddlesome pests out. Unfortunately, the harsh coding within most virus sweepers and scrubbers can be harmful, too. The environmentally minded should consider organic virus scrubbers, such as those containing natural exfoliants made from oatmeal, lemon or sea salt.

In addition, there are countless other options for organic computing — from only enabling cookies made with fair-trade certified sugar to demanding shade-grown javascript — that can help you work with a clear conscience.

Wrap it Up

For dozens of months now, The Nature Conservancy has been working with computing experts around the world to design sustainable, Earth-friendly computing systems.

From creating pasture rotation plans on our server farms to eschewing pen-raised servlets in favor of those written in free-range coding, we are helping to ensure that the cyberworld of tomorrow will contain blue cloud-computing skies…and that the Internet’s rich and bountiful harvest will remain intact for nextgen users.

— Text by Clay Carrington, Cool Green Science Blog

Green your e-waste this April 1
Want to green your computing? These tips -- from composting your tweets and IMs to demanding shade-grown javascript -- can make your e-world so much more eco-fr