Penn State institute offers tips for saving the planet one office at a time

Katie Jacobs
April 22, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Everyone knows it’s better for the environment to shut down computers when they’re not in use. But Lydia Vandenbergh, associate director of employee engagement at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, said there are many other things employees can do to make their IT resources more sustainable — from recycling old gadgets to changing the font on printed documents.

“Helping your office become more resource friendly through the use of IT revolves around a series of choices,” said Vandenbergh. “What works for one office may not work for another, so Penn State’s Sustainability Institute recommends a four-step approach: identify the problem and barrier to change, brainstorm possible changes, try the change and then evaluate how it’s working for the group.”

In celebration of Earth Day, Vandenbergh gives a few tips on how to be more responsible with IT resources:

Make your gadgets take a nap

Many people already put their computers in sleep mode before heading home for the night to avoid them sucking up more energy, but laptops aren’t the only machines in need of some shut-eye. Check the office printer and copier; they likely have a sleep button, too.

Don’t take old technology to the trash

The downside of technology is its transient nature — it’s hard to keep up with the latest and best gadgets, leading to large amounts of “e-waste.” But don’t send that old laptop or cellphone to the landfill. There are many options to recycle or sell your old electronics, like dropping off your old cell phone at the receptacle outside Pattee Library or selling your cracked Macbook at

Hunt for vampire loads and electricity leaks

Many electronics consume electricity even when they are turned off. This is known as a phantom load, vampire load or electricity leak. Devices that go into “standby mode” — anything that can be turned on with a remote or that displays a clock, for example — use power even after being switched off. Either unplug it or connect it to a power strip that can be turned off.

Be smart about how you print

During their college years, many students manipulate the margin widths and font sizes on their papers to stretch an essay of three pages into five. Now, it’s time to do the opposite. Set margins to 0.75 inches instead of the standard 1.25 and save 5 percent of your paper. Additionally, if you’re more selective about what you print, you can produce real savings on ink and paper.

Rein in the cables

Considering how different devices often require different cables and how quickly new gadgets are released, cables have a knack of piling up in drawers quickly. It can be tempting to toss them in the garbage, but that’s a lot of e-waste sitting in landfills. Consider using wireless Bluetooth devices when possible, asking family and friends if they can use extra cables and properly recycling any that are left over.

Come together as a team

There’s lots of ways offices can work together to improve sustainability efforts. Have a 10-minute staff meeting to talk about some of the tips listed above or have a scavenger hunt to find as many vampire loads as possible. Or, contact Vandenbergh to learn more about the different ways to get involved.

Starting a Green Team allows you to come together with other Penn State students, faculty and staff to help your organization or department operate in a more efficient and healthy way. You can also get your office Green Paws certified by completing up to four tiers of requirements.

Vandenbergh has one more tip: Don’t feel bad if it’s not possible to do all of her suggestions at once. The key is to start making better choices and turn them into long-term habits.

For more stories about IT at Penn State, visit Current at

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Last Updated April 22, 2014