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Tech We’re Using: Using Technology to Be Environmentally Friendly

Big tech companies have a major impact on the environment. How do you think they are doing, and what are the implications for the rest of us?

One of the tech companies’ biggest environmental footprints comes from the enormous centers that store and process the data that powers their operations — and there has been research to suggest that some tech giants may be underestimating the amount of energy they consume. Data centers also use lots of water to cool their hard-working server computers. I think there has been a lot of progress among the tech giants to address these issues, and most companies have some sort of commitment to powering more of their energy needs with renewables.

Of course, you can also shrink your own data carbon footprint with really simple steps, like remembering to turn off your work computer at the end of the day. I’m still surprised by how many computer and TV screens are on in our own Times building at night and over the weekend.


Credit Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

What tech product are you currently obsessed with using in your daily life?

I’m a public transportation nerd and use travel-related apps a lot. My favorite is Exit Strategy, which tells you which subway car you need to be in to make sure you get off right by the exit you need. You would be surprised at how much time and stress that can save you.

We also use buses a lot where we live in Brooklyn, so I use the M.T.A. Bus app, which is much more accurate than services like Google Maps.

I also love podcasts. With a good podcast, like Michael Barbaro’s The Daily or the S-Town podcast from “This American Life,” it’s easy to tune everything out.

What could be better about any of your favorite transit apps?

Google Maps is a major headache for me. It just doesn’t integrate with New York City Transit very well. So it might suggest a route on a train that’s shut down for maintenance, for example. If Google Maps was better at flagging even just scheduled maintenance, the subways and buses here would be so much easier to navigate.

I tweet about transit woes a lot, but it’s because I believe in the importance of public transportation. It lies at the heart of any vibrant city.

What are some simple tweaks people can make in their tech lives to be more environmentally responsible?

There are a couple of apps and services that can help you both be environmentally responsible and protect your health. GoodGuide lets you scan products in the store to look up ingredients and see overall product ratings based on health or environmental impacts. Apps like Oroeco let you track your daily carbon footprint and turn it into a game, making suggestions on how to do better.

Another area to think about from an environmental perspective is e-commerce. Most online shoppers have probably wondered what the impact of all those deliveries, and all that cardboard, might be. (My colleague Matt Richtel did a great piece last year on this.)

I’m the first to admit that I probably couldn’t live without e-commerce, but there are simple things that can help reduce your environmental impact. For example: Do you really need your new headphones and external batteries overnight? Express delivery options can add to e-commerce’s footprint, because shipments might be sent in multiple packages from various locations to meet a rushed order.

But from a carbon perspective, driving to and from the store can be even worse. That’s often more emissions-intensive than any other leg of that product’s journey. Delivery services, on the other hand, transport in bulk and tend to find the most efficient routes, keeping their fuel costs and emissions down.

YouTube kept running a luxury car ad over Thanksgiving where this guy hops into his car to get cranberry sauce. I kept wanting to shout at my laptop: “That’s the worst thing you can do for the planet!”

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