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Tech products that are good for the environment

The beauty of bamboo

Bamboo is a self-regenerating plant that grows fast — some shoots can grow almost 4 feet in 24 hours — absorbs carbon dioxide gases and has the strength of steel. In recent years, it has become a trendy green choice for everything from clothing and linen to furniture, flooring and even coffee filters.

It's even used in a series of computer accessories, including truly attractive speakers — the solid bamboo cabinets polished to a high-gloss finish showing off the wood's fine grain — that will retail for $120 when they reach the market in May. They will join a keyboard, mouse, Web cam, media card reader-writer and a USB keypad in Micro Innovations' bamboo lineup.

Other than the bamboo, these are only slightly better than standard-issue PC speakers. They stand alone (and less than 8 inches tall and 4 inches wide), with no subwoofer.

With a 3-inch driver for lower frequencies and a 1-inch tweeter for highs behind each black cloth grille, and only 8 watts, these speakers do not put up much of a sonic fight when pushed.

At lower volumes, though, they're quite engaging if you can excuse their limited range. If discounted to less than $100, they might be attractive enough — maybe even green enough — to find a place in your home or office.

How green is your acronym?

A growing number of electronics appearing in the United States are marked "RoHS compliant," which acknowledges restricted use of six hazardous materials. The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, or RoHS, which took effect in the European Union three years ago, limits use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and two flame retardants used in some plastics, polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ether.

Ask before you buy electronics. Apple, for instance, went green with its latest MacBook lineup, including the MacBook Pro, with certification from RoHS, Energy Star 4.0 and EPEAT Gold (the Green Electronics Council's Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool ratings system). It used PVC-free components and wiring, and efficient LED-backlit displays with screens free of mercury or arsenic.

It's a lot of new terminology, but it's part of the green wave.

Saving energy, at a price

How do you kill vampire energy? If you're using a stake, it's a waste of time. Vampire energy, the power sucked up by televisions, DVD players, audio-video receivers, computers and peripherals in standby mode, needs stronger action.

Monster Cable's Digital Life MDP 900 PowerCenter is a smart surge protector/power strip with a GreenPower outlet for a TV or computer that controls four associated outlets. I made a television the control device, then added an audio-video receiver, DVD player, an iPod dock and a lamp to the other GreenPower outlets. (Note that the control device must consume at least 16 watts.)

When I turned the TV on, everything else powered up, too. When I turned it off, power was cut to everything but the TV. Now, only the TV wasted stand-by energy. The MDP 900 has five other outlets (always active) and multiple connections for a computer or home theater (coaxial, network and phone connections) — with surge protection rated at 4,220 joules.

Is it worth it? Weigh the meager yearly savings of the typical 2 or 3 watts of stand-by power usage against the MDP 900's $129 list price (often discounted closer to $80 online). Monster also has PowerCenters with fewer outlets for less, the MDP 800 ($99) and MDP 650 ($70).

An even less expensive option: The Bits Limited LCG5 (, with 10 outlets and the same power-saving feature as the Monster strips, for about $40 online.

Kevin Hunt, Hartford (Conn.) Courant

Tech products that are good for the environment 03/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 4:31am]
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