Watch TV and save the world

Anyone who's seen the film An Inconvenient Truth will know about the damage being done to our planet and its climate by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere.

In the film, Al Gore's message is clear, stark and very worrying: if we don't act now to reduce carbon emissions, the effect on the Earth will be catastrophic.

Many people believe that consumer electronics kit doesn't consume much energy and isn't worth worrying about, but the truth is that our AV equipment eats up huge amounts of power, accounting for around 30 per cent of the average household electricity bill.

But it's not just the use of electricity that's causing a problem.

The disposal of unwanted consumer electronics products is also taking its toll, in that more and more landfill sites are needed to hold all of the waste. This includes new landfills specially designed to hold hazardous waste, as the use of toxic substances in the manufacture of consumer electronics kit can pose a threat to the environment if not disposed of responsibly.

Brand power

Thankfully, manufacturers are increasingly under pressure to be more eco-friendly, and one of the leading frontiers is the energy consumption of large-screen plasma and LCD TVs.

"The advances in 'on' power reduction have been huge," says Toshiba's Environmental Affairs specialist Tom Nickson. "When LCD first came out, its power consumption was much greater than CRT. But the advances over the past two years have been phenomenal."

A good example of this is Sony's 40-inch KDL-40D3000 LCD TV, which was recently named as EISA's (European imaging and sound association) European Green Television 2007-2008.

Manufacturers are also reducing the amount of electricity their products use in standby, with about £740m worth of energy currently wasted every year due to kit being left on standby.

At the moment most big-name flatscreens consume as little as 1W in standby mode, but some companies are keen to take it even lower. The Sony KDL-40D3000 consumes just 0.27W in standby, while Philips aims to get the standby power consumption of its TVs down to 0.2W for its 2008 models.

Badge of honour

When shopping for new home entertainment kit, buyers need to look out for the Energy Saving Recommended badge, which is awarded to products that meet certain eco-friendly criteria.

This award is given out by the Energy Saving Trust and guarantees that a product uses no more than 1.5W of energy in standby, or 250W in operation. The European Union Commission's Eco-label is another badge awarded to energy efficient products, and Sharp is so far the only LCD TV manufacturer to receive it.

As well as reducing the amount of electricity needed to power their products, manufacturers are also taking steps to ensure that their factories are carbon neutral.

Dream factories

Toshiba's factory in Plymouth must show continual improvement year on year to satisfy the parent company's demands. Part of this plan is for all of Toshiba's manufacturing sites to have zero waste emissions, or a recycling ratio of more than 95 per cent, by 2009.

Meanwhile, at Panasonic's Amagasaki factory in Japan, CO2 emissions have been cut by 48 per cent per plasma screen made. The plant is partially powered using natural energy sources including solar and wind turbines, and it uses rainwater to water its lawns.

But the king of all environmentally-friendly factories is Sharp's Kameyama plant in Japan. Opened in 2004, the plant integrates the entire LCD manufacturing process, which cuts down on CO2 caused by transferring parts between sites. The factory also uses a series of recycling techniques to minimise the effect on the environment, the water used in production is 100 per cent recycled, plus photovoltaic modules were installed at the front of the building to power the factory lights.

Gone to waste

The industry is also starting to look at the best ways to dispose of products once they've come to the end of their life cycle. In response to the shortage of landfill sites in the UK, the Government has introduced the WEEE Directive, which encourages the recycling and re-use of electronic goods. It makes manufacturers pay for the collection, treatment and recovery of waste electrical equipment, and obliges retailers to allow consumers to return their waste equipment free of charge.

As a result, it's in the interests of manufacturers to use as many recyclable materials as possible. Using a single type of plastic or replacing screws with clips makes TVs easier to recycle, and when it comes to packaging many companies are using materials other than polystyrene, such as 100 per cent recyclable paper.

What you can do

Of course, it's not just up to manufacturers and the Government to do something about climate change. There are many small steps you can take in order to reduce your carbon footprint.

But there are bigger ways to help. You could turn your house into a low carbon building by using alternative energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines. The Low Carbon Buildings Programme can grant householders £2,000 to fund such energy efficiency measures.

Or you could switch to a green energy supplier, who will supply electricity from wind and hydroelectric power. This will reduce your carbon dioxide contribution from electricity to nothing.

Taking some action can make a big difference. The smallest steps go some way towards improving the future of our planet, and turn Al Gore's inconvenient truth into a preventable one.

The full version of this article appears in issue 44 of What Plasma magazine.