Green Holiday Shopping Guide for Black Friday

By Noah Horowitz

While shopping for the latest electronics device this holiday season, you can make sure it’s a gift that keeps on giving—when it comes to energy (and dollar) savings and the environment—by following NRDC’s Green Electronics Holiday Guide.

The typical U.S. household already contains about 25 gadgets that consume 10 to 15 percent of your annual electricity bill. So choosing the most efficient models can substantially reduce home energy costs.

The impact can be national, too, in lowering energy bills by several billion dollars per year while preventing the release of millions of tons of carbon dioxide, the main pollutant responsible for climate change, from the power plants that run these devices.

But there are three easy steps everyone can take to minimize their electric bills and the environmental impacts of our gadgets:

  • Buy an energy efficient model
  • Pick the right settings to ensure the device uses little to no power when not in use
  • Properly recycle old, unwanted units and make sure they don’t wind up in the landfill or in a leaking acid pit halfway around the world where the precious metals inside them are recovered.


Graphic credit: Natural Resources Defense Council

Read Labels & Buy ENERGY STAR: Since your TV will probably last around 10 years, make sure you buy an efficient one. All TVs now carry a yellow Energy Guide label showing how much they cost to operate and how their energy use compares to similar-sized models. If the TV also has the ENERGY STAR logo, it meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) energy efficiency criteria and uses less energy than similar-sized models, saving money and protecting the environment. For the absolutely most energy-efficient models on the market, see ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2013 and the list at Top Ten USA.

Choose Internet-Ready TV for streaming video: If you might be streaming videos and accessing apps like Netflix on your TV, purchase one that is Internet-ready. Or purchase a little black box that uses very low amounts of power, such as Apple TV or a Roku Box. Avoid streaming video through game consoles like the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, which can require up to 30 times more energy to play the same movie.

Pick the Right Settings: A TV’s energy use can vary by as much as 20 percent due to the screen brightness setting that is selected. When you are setting up your TV, make sure to select the “home” or “standard” setting, and not the “retail” or “vivid” setting that will be overly bright and power consumptive. Also disable settings such as Quick Start that can greatly increase a TV’s standby power. You’ll hardly notice the difference.

Graphic credit: Natural Resources Defense Council

Desktops, Laptops, Tablets, Scanners and Printers

Lighter & Smaller is Better: Unlike desktop computers and monitors that are sometimes viewed by manufacturers as having endless supplies of electricity, laptops/notebooks and tablets are designed to be energy-efficient in order to make the battery last as long as possible, which is great for consumers and the environment. A tablet such as an iPad or Kindle Fire will use 35 times less energy annually than a decent desktop with 20-inch monitor, and 5 to 10 times less than a laptop. So consider buying a tablet or laptop instead of another desktop.  

Smart Labels: Always buy desktops, laptops, printers, and scanners (and all-in-one devices), with the ENERGY STAR logo because they meet EPA’s energy efficiency criteria and use less energy in on, sleep, and off modes than similar models. If you are interested in buying a desktop, laptop computer, tablet, or printer that is not only energy efficient, but also contains fewer toxic  materials and is designed to be easily disassembled for recycling, buy a model that meets the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool’s criteria and is on their list of registered products.

Smart Settings: For desktops and laptops, take full advantage of power-management settings to also reduce energy use, including avoiding screensavers which actually use more energy by making the computer work harder. Instead set the screen to switch off after 15 minutes or less of inactivity, and the computer to go to sleep after 30 minutes or less of inactivity.

Other inexpensive green gadgets that make good holiday gifts:

Kill-a-Watt Meter: A really nifty device is the Kill-a-Watt meter that enables you to measure how much energy each device in your home uses, both when on and when “turned off.” The meter only costs about $20 and will provide many “ah ha!” moments like: our game console uses 70 watts continuously when our kid forgets to turn it off, which can add up to $100 a year in wasted electricity, or that the “turned off” DVR set top box from your cable or satellite company still draws around 20 watts all night long.  

Rechargeable Batteries: Even if you’re not planning big-ticket electronics purchases this holiday season, a battery charger and a set of rechargeable AA batteries can help save lots of money and keep the billions of single use batteries out of the landfill. 

Smart Power Strip: As many devices continue to draw some level of power when inactive or even when turned off, the foolproof solution is to plug all the devices in the room into a smart power strip. These next generation power strips can sense when the TV or computer is turned off and will automatically power down all the peripheral devices that are plugged in. For example, consider one for your TV’s ecosystem to ensure not only your TV is really off, but also the DVD player, game console and surround sound speaker system that are connected to it. Many of the models include a few “hot sockets” that allow devices like cell phone chargers to continue to charge while the other devices are turned off. Also make sure to plug your DVR into one of the strip’s hot sockets as they need to remain on to record your shows. 

LED Light Bulbs: Treat your friend or relative to one of the new hi-tech LED light bulbs. A good LED light bulb now costs as little as $10 at stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart and due to its efficiency and long life, will save more than $100 over its lifetime.

What to do With the Old Stuff?

Graphic credit: Natural Resources Defense Council

The EPA says about 2 million tons of electronic gadgets are discarded each year, but less than 20 percent are recycled. Fortunately, there are great and easy options to do better.

  • Reuse/Resell: It takes a lot of energy to make a new device so it’s often better to keep old functioning consumer electronics in use, especially when it comes to smart phones, tablets, and laptops. Give them to family or friends, or take advantage of small electronics buyback programs from such retailers as Radio Shack and Walmart.com and a slew of websites.
  • Recycle: If the old device no longer works or is an energy hog like the older plasma TVs, get it out of circulation. Take it to a certified e-Steward recycler to make sure your e-waste is properly recycled. Best Buy, for example, will accept your waste electronics, including TVs, at all their stores—free and regardless of where they were purchased—and only uses e-Steward recyclers. Kudos for this continuing leadership. Staples has a similar program, but doesn’t accept TVs. Beware many of the E-waste drop-off fundraisers at your local school, as the equipment is not always taken to a reputable recycling facility, so be sure to ask.

 This piece originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

Visit EcoWatch’s PRODUCTS page for more related news on this topic.

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