Being green isn't easy, but even modest changes can help

Electricity is still largely generated by "dirty sources," and that has a major impact on many green technologies like electric cars. However, even modest changes can make a significant impact.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor on

Ripples of green technologies can eventually form a wave.

Today is Earth Day – a time to celebrate and encourage environmental stewardship. It also serves as a reminder that there isn’t a clear path toward a greener lifestyle, but that even incremental changes still matter.

While I was perusing the Web today, I noticed several news articles that were premised on how even electric cars and most eco-friendly consumer electronics can still be detrimental to the environment.

It’s pretty obvious: an electric car that gets its energy from a coal power plant isn’t helping as much as you’d hope. Yahoo’s Green blog examined whether electric cars are really better for the environment, and concluded that the benefit may be far less than you may envision.

That is not to say that the net effect isn’t beneficial. Yahoo cited data on how an electric vehicle emitted roughly 15 fewer pounds of carbon per 100 miles than a fuel-efficient compact car.

The average driver in the United States logs 16,550 miles annually, according to the Department of Transportation. Each driver could hypothetically keep 2,482.5 pounds of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere if everyone traded in model A to model B.

Earlier this week, HP showed me a line up of more environmentally sound laptops that are made with fewer toxic materials. Electronics have traditionally contained harmful substances that frequently end up becoming e-waste.

The “green,” branding, while encouraging, may be modest. Think for a moment about how a modern connected PC is used: people access services through their Web browsers. Many popular online services and cloud-based applications are hosted by a handful of providers.

Greenpeace, today, published an environmental scorecard rating cloud providers, and most didn’t fair as well as I’d hope given how studies have demonstrated that cloud computing can be greener than traditional datacenters.

Once more, it came down to how the power behind the machine is produced; many cloud providers – even those that have invested in alternative energy sources -- remain heavily coal power consumers.

That’s a function of the datacenters’ locations and the inconvenient truth that more than 45 percent of electricity generated in the United States is derived from burning coal. It must be a part of the current energy mix.

My Manhattan apartment does not offer me an overabundance of space. There is limited room to sort recyclables, and my building provides bins that too small for every tenant to recycle. Sometimes trash just goes down the chute.

I do the best that I can. My environmental footprint shrinks by taking public transportation and walking. People that drive electric cars, buy greener electronics, and even some cloud computing providers, are making similar tradeoffs.

Robert F. Kennedy once said that person who “stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Even modest changes in our behavior can create ripples, which over time may eventually lead to a broader acceptance of green technologies and a more sustainable lifestyle in developed nations. Earth Day reminds us to keep making those ripples.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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