Q: Which laptop is greenest?
A: Gather round, kids. It's time for a story. Back when I was your age and just starting university (snowshoeing uphill both ways, of course), we didn't have iPads with note-taking apps or smartphones that record lectures while you doze.
The good new is that the 90s are over (well, except for the recent plaid shirt revival), and today's computers, clever now in all sorts of ways, aren't, by and large, the energy-sucking, toxic-flame-retardant-laced beasts they were back then. And although desktops are still cheaper, laptops use up to 50 per cent less energy than a desk-bound system.
But that doesn't mean all laptops are created equal. The best place to turn for a thorough report card on all this is Greenpeace International's Guide To Greener Electronics.
The org has been scoring electronic brands since 2006 on factors like energy use, climate policies/practices, toxin reduction, recycling programs and way more.
It'll be a few months before Greenpeace's next report comes out, but in the meantime let's look at the last list of keeners and flunkers.
In the corner wearing dunce caps sit Toshiba, LG and Acer. Oh, sure, everyone's doing a little work to keep teach happy, like reducing hazardous substances in their circuit boards, but Acer and Toshiba particularly suck on energy criteria.
Clawing their way to the front row (remember, no one gets an A here; even the greenest computers get at best 59 per cent) are Dell, Apple and HP.
Let's start with Dell, the quintessential back-to-school-sale pushers. Its computers should now be free of toxin-leaching PVC plastic and persistent brominated flame retardants that get into household dust and stick to our insides for way too long. Finally.
Dell is committed to slashing its greenhouse gas footprint, and all its Latitude, Precision and OptiPlex lines are super-energy-efficient, but that doesn't mean all its computers get the Energy Star seal of approval.
Keep in mind, if all computers sold in the U.S. alone met Energy Star standards, consumers would, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, save an estimated $1.8 billion in energy a year, and slash greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road.
What about that class hottie, Apple? It's no longer getting by on looks alone. It gets top points for e-waste recycling, and along with HP earns top points for avoiding the conflict minerals that fuel Africa's most brutal wars.
More gold stars: all Apple products are now totally free of PVC and BFRs, and they all meet or exceed Energy Star standards. They still tank when it comes to using post-consumer recycled plastic and sustainable paper.
HP squeaked to the head of the pack, mostly because it's been a leader in "sustainable operations" and measuring and reducing greenhouse gases.
Like Dell, HP won't get any paper from illegally logged sources. Last checked, about 75 per cent of its products met Energy Star standards. Its notebooks are free of PVC, BFRs and mercury.
What if you're jonesing for a tablet? I'll admit they're pretty energy-efficient and mighty portable, but the question is, do you really need a second computer and all the embedded energy/metals/pollution that come with it? Can you get by with just one - either a tablet or a laptop? I think you can.
Speaking of avoiding the massive footprint that comes with new electronics, why not get a pre-loved refurbished laptop for a rock-bottom price? Most computer stores offer used Energy Star computers from cleaner brands like Dell, Mac and HP.
Once you've picked out your laptop or tablet, make sure you head into your system preferences/control panel (for PCs, under systems & security) to pick the most energy-efficient modes/power options. You know, like programming your computer to go into sleep mode after five minutes of inactivity, dim the screen, that kind of thing. And turn the whole thing off at the end of the night.
Trust me, you don't need your laptop blazing all night after you've passed out at your desk or wandered off to check out the party two houses over.
Got a question?