PCs VS. TREES Computers can help save environment


When personal computers first appeared in offices a decade ago, seers forecast a future in which paper documents would be obsolete, replaced by flurries of electrons and phosphors.

Instead, according to one study, American businesses generated a record 775 billion pieces of paper last year.

So much for the paperless office. Computers appear to have fueled the rise in paper use, not retarded it.

Last week's column discussed new printer technologies that eliminate disposable parts, which is good for the environment. The other side is that printers make it virtually painless to crank out reams of paper documents.

For PC users who wish to be more environmentally sensitive, the next steps are to reduce the flow of paper and to use recycled paper whenever possible.

Long-distance e-mail can replace paper mail. Electronic mail and messaging over computer networks may eventually cut down on the amount of paper used in offices. (Face-to-face communications, a seemingly lost art in business, is another alternative. Indeed, at least one computer company, the CompuAdd Corp. of Austin, Texas, has forbidden its managers and executives to use paper memos.)

"Most people have not accepted the fact that you can communicate without paper," said Don Rittner, an environmental activist and educator in Schenectady, N.Y. "Paper is a security blanket."

Mr. Rittner wrote "Ecolinking: Everyone's Guide to Online Environmental Information," $18.95 in paperback, from Peachpit Press, Berkeley, Calif., (800) 283-9444.

The book is printed on paper, of course, but Mr. Rittner predicted that all books would be distributed electronically within the next few decades.

He describes "ecolinking" as "the use of computer technology by scientists, environmentalists and concerned citizens around the globe to share ideas and research on environmental issues."

The book is a how-to guide for computer beginners and an extensive directory of sources of information about the environment.

"There are 40 million people on line today," Mr. Rittner said. "If we could link up the worldwide environmental community, what a tremendous reservoir of talent, and what a potentially powerful lobby that would be."

A PC user can make a difference in many ways.

* For example, the new "environmentally sensitive" printers discussed in this column last week virtually eliminate disposable parts.

That is only part of the equation. Using recycled paper, and using the back of paper that has gone through a printer, will increase ecological responsibility.

"Rather than shooting out a copy and tossing it, turn it over and reuse it," Mr. Rittner advised. That simple step can cut paper use in half.

Recycled paper can produce better results in a laser printer because the paper fibers are more flexible and forgiving.

As more people switch to recycled paper, the cost is certain to fall.

* Computer monitors are surprisingly powerful generators of heat, which can help on cold days.

Leaving the monitor turned on can raise the temperature of a room by several degrees, and the amount of electricity used is typically offset by the savings in heating energy and costs.

In the summer, conversely, it is a good idea to turn off the power for the monitor (if not the computer) when it is not in use. Doing so will also prolong the life of the monitor.

* Consider "recycling" floppy disks and other computer gear by sending it to local schools. Schools never have enough computers or supplies, and most teachers and administrators welcome donations.

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