Five Eco-Friendly Gadgets

Are you trying to be more environmentally conscious? That doesn’t have to mean buying a Prius or installing solar-energy panels on your roof.

There are less-expensive ways to be green, from bringing your own reusable bag to the grocery store to cutting down on the number of catalogs you receive in the mail (for help on that, check out my new favorite site, Catalog Choice). And, of course, a slew of new environmentally friendly consumer electronics can help with the cause.

1. Power-Light TV

If you’re like me, the recent writers’ strike didn’t do much to temper your TV addiction. As long it’s not NASCAR or something with Howie Mandel in it, I’ll watch. So if I’m going to wither my brain with shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, I should at least consume as little power as possible while doing so.

Enter Philips’s Eco TV. This 1080p, 42-inch beaut incorporates several energy-savings measures, including a dimming mechanism designed to lower the panel’s backlight depending on what’s being shown on screen, and a sensor that measures the room’s ambient light and automatically adjusts the backlight accordingly. Adding to the Eco TV’s green cred is its use of lead-free materials, plus recycled packaging and manuals. Available in March, the Eco TV will set you back about $1399–though the feeling that you’re doing something virtuous is priceless.

2. Earthy Drives

For completists looking to clean up all aspects of their electronic life, here’s some good news: Even data storage can be green. The EarthDrive is a fully recyclable USB thumb drive made from bio-recycled material. Ranging in capacity from 1GB to 8GB, the EarthDrive costs US$20 to $100, and the maker dedicates a portion of its profits to planting trees via a partnership with the American Forest Foundation.

If you’re looking for a bigger chunk of Earth-lovin’ storage, check out Kanguru’s Eco Drive, which can reduce power consumption by up to 75 percent compared withother external drives. It does this via three modes–Idle, Standby, and Power Down–that ratchet down the power depending on how long the drive has been inactive (of course, the deeper it’s sleeping, the longer it will take to spin back up).

It’s also free of such common toxic materials as mercury, lead, and cadmium. A 3.5-inch version of the drive is available in sizes ranging from 80GB to 750GB (and at prices from $95 to $260), while 2.5-inchers come in 80GB and 160GB versions (at prices from $100 to $140).

3. Clean Air

If  want to justify your purchase of a MacBook Air to your spouse without resorting to underwriting mall offsets, try this one: “I’m doing it for the environment, honey.” Apple hasn’t always scored well on the enviro front–for instance, last fall Greenpeace found toxic chemicals in the iPhone–but according to the Cupertino company, the MacBook Air “embodies Apple’s continuing environmental progress.”

The Air sports a mercury-free LCD (Apple’s first!) with no arsenic in the glass; circuit boards containing little or no brominated flame retardant; and internal cables with nary a trace of PVC. The unit is sheathed in a recyclable aluminum case and arrives on your doorstep in slimmed-down packaging composed of recycled material, natch. Unsurprisingly, the Air is the least-power-hungry Mac–though at $1799 to start, it’s a glutton for your wallet.

4. Conservative Power

Even when I shut down the DVD player and the TV at night, they continue to cast a gentle glow as they estivate in standby mode. Convenient though that may be for 3 a.m. trips to the bathroom, it’s also a waste of energy. Due out this summer for $50, Belkin’s Conserve is more surge protector than you ever thought you’d need.

The device features eight outlets–six of which you can shut down when you’re done with working or being entertained for the day, and two of which remain on at all times to support gadgets you don’t want to turn off completely, such as your TiVo, your alarm clock, or your automated coffeemaker. A remote control lets you turn off the Conserve strip without having to get out of bed or contort your body under a desk or media cabinet–and one remote can control multiple Conserves.

5. Fashionable Speakers

They may not be the most bone-rattling speakers on the block, but they sure are kind to their mother earth. Made primarily (at least 70 percent) out of post-consumer recycled material, Fashionation’s $15 Eco-Speakers come in a range of colors, from red to green to a mix of patterns and hues. 

The Eco-Speakers are small (measuring just 3.25 inches square), and they can fold flat to a tiny 6-by-7-by-5-inch package for easy transport. You won’t need a power cord or batteries, either. These passive speakers draw a tiny amount of power from your iPod or MP3 player–but because they lack an amplifier, the audio doesn’t exactly boom.

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