August 16, 2022

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Earth Day is April 22, and its usual message—take care of our planet—has been given added urgency by the challenges highlighted in the latest IPCC report. This year, Ars is taking a look at the technologies we normally cover, from cars to chipmaking, and finding out how we can boost their sustainability and minimize their climate impact.

The best gadgets are the ones that find a way to enhance your world of work, play, or even just the daily grind. But there’s also another feature that can make a nice piece of tech even better: sustainability.

Continually buying the latest and greatest tech or gadget obviously creates a lot of waste. But thinking critically about the gadgets you buy can play a small part in reversing this trend.

Below, we take a look at some of the unique pieces of tech we’ve found that either offer a greener approach to rivals or suggest a positive impact on the planet.

A laptop or smartphone for the ages

The Framework is a lightweight laptop meant for upgrading, repairing, and customizing.
Enlarge / The Framework is a lightweight laptop meant for upgrading, repairing, and customizing.

Jim Salter

While the Framework Laptop is still working with a last-gen Intel CPU as of this writing, it proved to be a good tool for productivity and even light gaming when we tested it last year. But the relevant thing here is that the laptop was built to last for the long haul. You can upgrade its components, like the RAM and storage, more easily than on other laptops. It’s also easier to repair, since it opens up with just a screwdriver, and Framework shares repair guides online. You could even buy the Framework laptop motherboard on its own.

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On the phone front, Fairphone can be a more sustainable choice, as it has products that can make it for years and include extended software support. Take the Fairphone 2. It came out in 2010 and can run 2019’s Android 10.

Meanwhile, the Fairphone 3 and 3+, which were released in 2019, are beta-testing Android 11.

That all makes the Android 11-based Fairphone 4, which already has a five-year warranty, look pretty promising in terms of longevity.

USB lighter

This cheap ol' thing still works.
Enlarge / This cheap ol’ thing still works.

Scharon Harding

If we’re feeling contrite about the wasteful burning of resources, let’s turn to our lighters. Disposable lighters are cheap and easy to find in a pinch but aren’t recyclable—neither are refillable ones.

Battery-powered options work by using a “high-voltage electrical current [that] passes between two nodes to create an arc of highly charged plasma,” per Popular Mechanics. They’re rechargeable, so you won’t have to keep buying new lighters. And, since they don’t use fire, electronic lighters are generally safer and more wind-resistant.

Going deeper, as electronic lighter-maker Power Practical explained in a blog post, “due to ionization, the electrons present in the air start moving along the nucleus and create current in the form of an arc.” That’s why these chargers are also referred to as plasma or arc lighters. Instead of a dancing flame, you’ll see a purple, lightning-like zigzag.

A blog post by an electronic lighter maker cited by Popular Mechanics suggests its products work similarly:

“Lightning occurs when a build-up of electrical charge within clouds reaches the point where the ability of that charge to move through the air is reached and the charged particles jump either between clouds, or down to the ground causing a huge arc of plasma, light, heat, and sound,” the Flux Lighters’ blog reportedly said.

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Rechargeable lighters can be just as pricy or nearly as cheap as traditional ones. A $13 no-name version from Amazon (see the image above) has found its way into my home, and while it sometimes needs some cleaning or bending back and forth to get its arc going, it has been useable since 2019.

There are nicer options, too. For example, The USB Lighter Company has options that last for “up to 1,000 lights per charge” and prismatic flip-top options.

One downside to USB lighters is that you have to keep the arc tips clean, which may require bringing in a tissue or cloth that you’ll have to throw out or wash, creating a bit of waste. Most of us need a lighter, and with a USB one, you can still start a fire without burning through a bunch of plastic, metal, and gas, too.

Net-positive monitor arms

Humanscale claims production of its monitor arms has a positive impact on the environment.
Enlarge / Humanscale claims production of its monitor arms has a positive impact on the environment.

Prioritizing sustainability with your monitor arms might sound like a reach at first, but we found offerings from Humanscale that are actually certified to be climate, water, and energy-positive.

Certification comes from the International Living Future Institute, which requires that products be “healthy and free of toxins,” “net positive, and benefit both people and the environment.” Companies that meet their certification requirements must also be socially responsible, including toward their employees. The certification has seven total performance areas: place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty.

Humanscale is the first to sell monitor arms with this certification and has options for single, dual, and tri-monitor setups and beyond. 

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