Green, lean Xmas gadgets
For those looking to save money, energy and the environment, there are a host of green products available as stocking fillers this festive season.
Greg Walton, from local online marketplace The Green Shop, says there's been a change in buyer behaviour recently, with sales up from last year.
”We hope it's not only because of Christmas approaching, but also because the economy might be starting to shift. The country is bracing itself for 2010, so we feel there is a lot more of a positive feeling around.”
Great strides have been made in producing more efficient computers and reducing environmentally harmful products in their manufacture. There are various new entrants to the green computing market.
The Apple MacBook Air MC 233 has been named the 'greenest' laptop, according to Greenpeace's The Green Guide, with a gold 'electronic products environmental assessment tool' (EPEAT) rating. It's also made of recyclable glass and aluminium and is PVC and BFR-free (PVCs and BFRs have toxic properties and release harmful compounds during degradation).
The EPEAT programme classifies products according to environmental indicators such as efficiency and materials used. Products that meet 23 environmental performance criteria can be registered in EPEAT by their manufacturers. Products are rated bronze, silver or gold depending on 28 additional criteria above the baseline requirements.
Consumers can also look out for Energy Star-certified products, which must meet stringent requirements for annual energy consumption set by the US Environmental Protection Agency and department of energy.
Lenovo's ThinkPad series and HP's Elitebook notebooks both have an Energy Star rating and gold EPEAT performance. Dell's Latitude series is rated EPEAT gold, and the company's G-series monitors are completely PVC and BFR-free. Toshiba's Mini NB200 series is another Energy Star compliant and EPEAT gold performer.
For a full range of desktops, notebooks, thin clients and workstation models and their EPEAT ratings, see the EPEAT Web site.
If purchasing completely new hardware isn't an option, the Eco Button can be used to power down a standard PC to save energy when users get up for brief periods of time. The Eco Button plugs into a USB port and triggers the computer into the most efficient power mode when a user has to, for example, answer the phone or go to a meeting. They can then punch the button again to get the PC up and running.
The button works with Windows 2000, XP and Vista, but is not yet compatible with the Mac OS X or Windows 7.
Another small but smart PC solution is the USB battery, a rechargeable battery with a USB plug on one end to connect to any computer USB port to charge it.
Cellphone manufacturers are now are producing less wasteful and more efficient models, without sacrificing features or performance. Nokia's E3110 Evolve has a case design made from 50% recycled plastic and an energy-efficient charger, which Nokia says cuts the amount of energy consumed when the phone is fully charged.
Sony Ericsson has released a set of GreenHeart products; the Naite and C901 GreenHeart, as well as the MH300 GreenHeart headset and EP300 charger. The GreenHeart label means reduced packaging, recycled plastics, waterborne paints, and an electronic in-phone manual instead of a paper booklet.
The Naite also includes an Ecomate application with a carbon footprint calculator that shows how much carbon dioxide the user is saving.
Samsung's Blue Earth is manufactured from recycled water bottles, and has a solar power device on the back which the company says can provide enough energy to keep the phone running.
On the charging side, solar battery chargers are making headway, with products like the Freeloader charger, which takes power from its solar panels or via a supplied charge cable that plugs into a computers' USB.
Once charged, a Freeloader can power a cellphone for 44 hours, an iPod for 18hours and a PDA for 22 hours, and it comes with 12 adaptors to connect to various phones. Similarly, the Solarmonkey from Powertraveller charges in the sun or under incandescent lighting, and can then power up a variety of phones, MP3 players or digital devices.
According to Walton, there has been a huge increase in the online store's toys section. “We have many varieties of what we feel are eco toys, ranging from solar-powered toys to cardboard paper craft.
“A new range we have launched are the water-powered clocks, and our range of Batucada eco-plastic designer jewellery has also been incredibly popular. We thought it would be a hit with the younger generation, but it seems to work very well across the board,” says Walton.
The shop features solar toys including cars, solar robots and computer bugs made out of recycled computer parts.
Then there are more educational toys, such as the Tio Goost Light switch. It aims to teach children to conserve energy as the transparent ghost figure changes colours and expressions according to how long lights are left on. It turns green and smiles when lights are left on for a short time, and then orange and finally red the longer lights remain on.
A number of gadgets can help home owners optimise energy use this festive season. The Sun Jar, for example, consists of a standard Mason jar with a solar cell, rechargeable battery and low energy LED lamps inside.
According to the company, when the jar is placed in sunlight, the solar cell creates an electrical current that charges the battery over a few hours. This energy is then used at night to power the three LED lamps inside the jar. There are no switches, but a light sensor inside the jar automatically activates the lights when it gets dark or lights are turned out.
The Hymini charger can be used for charging mobile devices including cellphones, iPods, MP3 players, digital cameras and other 5V devices. It can be plugged into the wall, but what makes it more eco-friendly is that one can strap it on during a bike ride and charge via wind power, or connect it to a mini solar panel.
Other gadgets that make energy conservation easy include the EcoSavers Nightlight, which uses electroluminescent light technology to provide light using only 0.18W. According to EcoSavers, this is 500 times less energy than a conventional light bulb.
EcoSavers also produces shower timers, where the user sets the minutes and seconds they want to shower and after the set time, the timer will beep as a sign to stop showering.
An effective home metering option is The Owl, a wireless electricity monitor which contains a cumulative memory feature, so users can monitor their electricity usage over a period of time.
It allows users to see how much electricity they're using, as they use it, providing real-time information on the amount of electricity being consumed in terms of power, cost and carbon footprint. The Owl monitor connects to a home's electric supply and doesn't need an electrician to be installed.