“The most important environmental issue is one that is rarely mentioned, and that is the lack of a conservation ethic in our culture.”
—Gaylord Nelson, co-founder of Earth Day
I like gadgets. I think it’s a gene attached to the Y chromosome, because when I talk to my buddies, I’m not alone. I’m not sure what it is about gadgets—the buttons, the displays, the need to use my hands—but I can’t get enough of them.
Yet, I’d rather not have gadgets that waste electricity. I remember early in my journey to become an activist fighting global warming, I learned that a lot of our electronic gadgets waste electricity, even when they’re not in use. Not only does that mean we waste energy (and money) for these items when they’re plugged in and constantly draining a small amount of electricity—commonly for whatever is on constant display on a screen—but it also means we increase our carbon footprint because this wasted energy still means increased emissions. And we waste money because our electricity company charges us regardless of what we’re using our electricity for.
So how do I reconcile my love of gadgets and my desire to reduce my emissions? Simple: I get a gadget that’s designed to help me reduce my emissions.
Say hello to my new Belkin Conserve Insight Energy Monitor. There are many such items out there, but this is the one I got. By plugging it into the wall, and then plugging any electronic item or appliance into it, I can immediately find out how much energy it’s draining in kilowatt-hours, how much it’s costing me per month or per year, as well as how much carbon dioxide it’s emitting per month or per year.
Some quick tests were revealing. Our Keurig coffee maker is always plugged in, but we turn it to the off position other than when it’s being used. (I point that out because I’ve been to other people’s houses who also have Keurigs and notice that some keep theirs in the on and “Ready to Brew” position with a bright blue display on at all times.
It turns out our Keurig generates about 8.5 kg of carbon dioxide annually, costing about $6.40 annually when it’s on but not actively heating water, but of course it periodically uses more electricity to keep the water supply heated so it’s it ready to brew a cup at a moment’s notice. When it’s off but still plugged in—but not ready to brew, thus forcing you to wait a few minutes for your cup of java—it still generates about 7.5 kg of carbon dioxide each year, costing us about $5.70 on our electricity bill annually. I was surprised that the saved electricity was so minimal.
I compared this to our Cuisinart toaster which is usually plugged in as well, and also has a bright blue display all the time. Unlike the Keurig, there’s no on or off switch, so other than unplugging the toaster, we have no control on the steady drain of electricity when it’s not in active use. While it’s plugged in, it turns out our toaster generates less than one kilogram of carbon dioxide per year, and that means it’s only costing us about $0.70 annually. Not too bad.
For fun, I also plugged in our KitchenAid Classic mixer. When it’s not in use, it’s not using any electricity whatsoever. Of course, once we turned on the mixer, the emissions and the cost skyrocketed. But this pointed out to me that leaving that item plugged in did nothing to hurt our carbon footprint, or our pocketbook.
There are a lot of fun experiments you can do with this item. Like how much a compact fluorescent bulb uses over the old-fashioned incandescent lighting, or how much you generate while watching one week’s worth of television, or using your computer. But what I now find is that rather than using the device all over the house, I’ve simply become more conscientious about keeping items plugged in when I’m not using them. Like smart phone chargers. Electric toothbrushes. Electric shavers. Or sound systems for my iPod. (I warned you that I love my gadgets.)
Maybe you’d get something out of purchasing an energy monitor like this one, or maybe you wouldn’t. But I think most people prefer not to waste energy unnecessarily, or money for that matter. So unless you make a serious effort at reviewing what household items you keep plugged in, it might be worth your while to get one of these gadgets and try them around the house.
Chances are it will pay itself off in less than a year.