Six common myths around green IT practices

It is astonishing how myths can take root, spread and prosper. Even when there are niggling doubts of their validity, misconceptions can thrive because the majority believe them.


It is astonishing how myths can take root, spread and prosper. Even when there are niggling doubts of their validity, misconceptions can thrive because the majority believe them.

Of course, you wouldn't be one of those people that believe lights should be left on, because turning them on and off again uses more energy than steady illumination. And surely you aren’t one of the masses who fear that if they turn their computer off, documents will be lost?

Congratulations, you are in a minority, because green technology myths are prolific and pervasive in today’s workplaces.

A case in point, I recently attended one of our Environment Champions training days. The majority of employees that had gathered that day - keen to help their business become more sustainable - were convinced that it is necessary to leave their computers on overnight. Why? Because they thought there might be software or security updates at some point, and they wouldn’t want their machines to miss out.

Gently, yet firmly, our workplace programme manager assured them that they should always turn their monitors and computers off overnight. Any updates could be made when the computer was on during the day and they wouldn’t miss out. I wish I could say they all looked immediately converted, but once a mistaken belief gains hold, it can be a challenge to dispel them. The best we can do is tell them how detrimental their actions are – environmentally and financially - and encourage them to change and spread the word to their colleagues.

Here are some more examples of other green fallacies we often hear while out working with businesses:

Myth 1: "I should leave my computer on overnight so it can be updated"

Ok, I’ve already discussed this briefly, but to further drive home the point of why it’s so important to switch off your equipment at night, here are a few stats to ponder. On average an office wastes £6,000 each year by leaving equipment on during weekends and bank holidays. A computer left on overnight uses 1 kWh of electricity; if 1,000 people turned off their computers when they went home, they would save 180 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year. Just one tonne of carbon dioxide fills six double decker buses!

Myth 2: "To save energy, you should let your monitor go into screensaver mode when away from your desk"

You’d think with ‘saver’ in its name that would be the case, but no, screensavers can actually use more energy than just leaving the screen on! This is especially true for older style CRT monitors, which use a lot more energy than the newer flat screen monitors.

Also, while the screen is on, it gives off heat, which is wasted energy. In an office with air conditioning, the more monitors that are left on, the more heat that is given off and the harder the air conditioning has to work to keep the temperature cool.

It’s actually more energy efficient to turn off the monitor. And, while we are dispelling myths, switching a screen off doesn’t damage its life.

Myth 3: "When you enjoy a cuppa, it’s better for the environment to use a paper cup instead of a mug"

A ceramic mug still wins out, even after taking into account the manufacture of the mug and washing it up after every use. We often encourage employees to bring a mug to work to keep on their desks or ask their canteen to offer mugs instead of disposable cups. Some businesses even offer a discounted price on drinks if you bring you own receptacle.

Myth 4: "It’s best to use paper made from Forest Stewardship Council accredited forests"

Using recycled paper is the best choice. Recycling to make paper uses half the energy required to make paper from virgin tree pulp. If we continue to grow trees for paper, rather than using recycled paper, we will have to find something else to do with all the used paper. Recycling would not be an option as no one would buy it, and incineration or landfill would release the carbon into the atmosphere.

Myth 5: "Switching fluorescent strip lights off and back on uses more energy than leaving them on continuously"

If you are leaving the room for more than a minute and a half it is better to switch the lights off and then switch them back on again, even though in the start up phase they use more energy than when they are running.

The biggest myth of all: "I’m just one person; I can’t make any difference to something as global as climate change"

There is a common view that man-made emissions are too small in the grand scheme of things to cause climate change. It is true that in the annual carbon cycle only a small amount of emissions are caused by humans. But it is also the case that the other emissions are in natural balance, and it is our contribution which is the mess that the seas and the land can’t mop up.

Someone who feels this way can often be resistant to making practical changes in behaviour, such as switching off computer monitors and limiting their paper use. Their reasoning is, it is too small an action to make a difference, so why bother?

Our response is to practically show how individuals can truly make a difference by demonstrating the scalability of everything. Paper is a powerful example. In a workplace of about 1,000 people, if everyone used two sheets less per day it would save a tree every week. And that's enough to make a difference.

Now take part in our How Green is your IT? survey.

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