Step 1: Know your needs

The first step in creating an energy-smart office is to have a good understanding of your performance requirements and expectations. Equipment that is too large, too powerful or too sophisticated for your needs will cost more to purchase and use more energy than necessary to get the job done. Undersized machines, on the other hand, may have to work harder than intended, which will burn up electricity and could shorten the machine’s lifespan.

What to look for

No matter what type of office equipment you purchase, make sure it has power-management capabilities that automatically switch the machine into an energy-saving mode when it is not actively being used (this is mandatory for ENERGY STAR qualification).


When purchasing a computer, it is essential to ensure that the machine has the functions you need for the tasks you want to perform. At the same time, keep in mind that adding unnecessary hardware will likely increase a computer’s energy requirements. As a rule, the faster the processor speed, the larger the memory; and the more optional components you select, the greater the energy consumption.

Did You Know?

When thinking about performance requirements, energy efficiency should be near the top of your list. Buying a product that gets the job done efficiently and uses as little energy as possible makes good business sense.

Laptops can be an energy-efficient option for many applications, both inside and outside the office. A study completed in the United States in 2003 found that laptops were clear energy efficiency winners over desktop units – in some cases using five times less energy.


The type of display technology you choose for a computer system has an important impact on energy consumption. The most common technologies are the following:

  • LCD (liquid crystal display) models are the most common type of monitor in use today and are extremely energy efficient compared with the old CRT (cathode ray tube) technology. An LCD colour monitor consumes only 10 to 20 percent of the electricity of a colour CRT monitor.
  • LED monitors consume little energy, produce excellent colour quality and feature bright, uniform screens. Although this technology is relatively new to the computer world, some manufacturers are already using LEDs in all of their laptop models.
  • CRT monitors, once the norm for desktop computers, are largely a technology of the past. Their low purchase price is more than offset by increased electricity consumption and costs.

Imaging equipment

Printers, photocopiers, scanners and multi-function devices (which combine printing, photocopying and scanning in a single machine) can be big energy consumers in a typical office.

  • Consider an inkjet, rather than a laser, printer. An inkjet machine will produce near-laser quality but at a slower speed and use up to 95 percent less energy. Inkjet photocopiers and multi-function devices may also be suitable for less-demanding needs.
  • On a cost-per-page basis, laser printers are the most cost-effective option when a machine is used to print more than 200 pages per month because they eliminate the cost of ink. If you print below 200 pages per month, inkjet is the more cost-effective option.
  • Consider equipment that can print or copy on both sides of the paper. This will reduce your paper consumption and costs, as well as the amount of energy and fibre (trees) used for paper production.
  • Although there may be trade-offs in speed and capacity, multi-function devices can be a good fit for certain operations, such as home-based businesses and small offices. They not only eliminate the need to purchase multiple machines but also reduce idle energy costs (only one machine is running, rather than four) and space requirements.

Did You Know?

High-quality or high-speed printing and copying usually require more electricity, but top-end machines may provide this service using less energy per copy than smaller machines. Ask the vendor to include electricity consumption in the per cost comparison; this can help you match your needs with the most productive machine for the job.


Data centres are one of the fastest growing uses of electricity in Canada and around the world. Natural Resources Canada estimates that energy use by data centres doubled in Canada over the past five years and is expected to double again, to close to 10 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), by 2011.

Servers are the single largest energy-consuming component of a data centre. There is a tendency to waste server capacity by overbuilding and under-utilizing systems. One way to avoid such a problem is to gradually build server-system capacity over time. Incrementally building a system reduces short-term capital costs, allows you to take advantage of new technologies as they become available, and can reduce energy consumption and costs because you will not be operating servers that exceed your requirements.

However, data centres are complex environments, and servers are only one of several components that affect their operation. Before making any changes, consider using the services of a specialist to help you reorganize your data centre in ways that will save energy and money while maximizing performance.

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