• Megan Parfitt

Should you turn off library computers?

Be honest, have you ever turned off a public computer at school/university? Why is it something we do naturally at home but not in public spaces?



We have been told for years, don’t leave electricals on standby. I am sure most of us have made changes in our homes by turning off the TV, lights, and chargers, but energy efficiency is now top priority, particularly as energy prices are so high.


How much energy do computers actually use when on standby?


One study conducted at Tufts University found that if all university students turned off their computers at night it would prevent around 572 tons of CO2, and over $87,000 in electrical costs [1]. Not only do you save energy, but when you turn off your computer, the risk of someone accessing your files is significantly decreased.


Clearly, the most power-conscious state for desktop PCs, laptops, and smartphones is to be switched off. So why do spaces with public computers leave PCs on stand-by?


One main misconception is that PCs don’t use a lot of power if they are on but unused. However, the average PC uses around 120 Watts whether you’re using it or not [1]. It is recommended that you turn off the computer if you’re not using it for more than an hour. However, if you can't turn off your computer for various reasons (e.g., unsaved work), it is best to put your computer to 'sleep'. This is the best option if you want to resume work immediately as files are stored in RAM and the rest of the components are put on low-power mode [2]. However, that is less likely to be needed in a public setting, and more useful for you to implement at home.


It is a belief that turning off a computer regularly is bad for the computer. It may be that owners of these public spaces don’t desire to promote turning electricals off because they don’t believe it will damage their equipment. This may have been true at one point, but modern hard disks are not affected by being shut down frequently and can last longer due to less heat stress [2].Therefore, this won't cost libraries money in repair costs, and will save on electrical costs.


There also may be a simple psychological reason why we don’t practice what we do at home in spaces which are not ours. When humans do not experience consequences from their actions first hand, it can be difficult to believe that our actions do have any impacts. This is something we are seeing with most climate behaviours. Those who make no sustainable changes to their lives struggle to understand the scale of effects from their unsustainable behaviours. Unfortunately, it has taken record high temperatures this summer for people to start realising the truth.


How can we encourage behaviour change?


There are some obvious ways of encouraging people to turn off computers as they log off. Like the government drive for turning off lights, posters, and visual reminders next to monitors could help remind individuals to fully shut down computers instead of just logging off. Research also shows that when you use descriptive norms (the perception of how others behave), individuals are more likely to change their behaviour to suit that of the norm [3]. For example, a note/small poser on each monitor saying “Remember to shut down, 80% of students in this library shut down the computer after use” highlights to the individual that others turn off their computers, promoting the desire to fit in with those norms.


However, studies suggest that encouraging active behaviour change is not always successful as it requires people to consciously change their behaviour. Instead, non-conscious processes have been successful in changing health-related behaviours [4], it is therefore not unreasonable to apply this to other sustainable behaviours. One way we could get people to unconsciously turn off their computers would be if it was possible for organisations to implement a setting where when an individual logs out of an account and no new user logs in within a set amount of time (e.g., 15mins), the computer will shut down. This puts no additional tasks on the individual and achieves the same result. Obviously this requires the support of librarians and staff, so why not begin a discussion and see where it leads.


Can you think of any ways we could encourage people to turn off public computers? Have you spoken to your school/University about what they are doing to reduce their energy consumption? Let us know, we would love to hear from you.


References

[1] [Internet]. Sustainability.tufts.edu. [cited 3 September 2022]. Available from: https://sustainability.tufts.edu/wp-content/uploads/Computer_brochures.pdf

[2] Help H, Help P, Hope C. Is It Better to Leave the Computer on or Turn It Off? [Internet]. Computerhope.com. 2022 [cited 3 September 2022]. Available from: https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch000390.htm

[3] Demarque C, Charalambides L, Hilton D, Waroquier L. Nudging sustainable consumption: The use of descriptive norms to promote a minority behavior in a realistic online shopping environment. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 2015;43:166-174.

[4] Hollands G, Marteau T, Fletcher P. Non-conscious processes in changing health-related behaviour: a conceptual analysis and framework. Health Psychology Review. 2016;10(4):381-394.