The following article is from our November 2007 issue.

Want to Save the Earth? Pick a Clothesline Fighting climate change means choosing the right appliance and using it right - By Ulrich Hottelet

When it comes to climate change and conservation, everyone blames big business. In fact, the solution begins at home as international studies show.

Susan Taylor's laundry stirred up a storm. It started in her hometown of Bend, Oregon, then spread all over America. She simply did what was once totally normal: She hung out her family's wet laundry on a clothesline in her yard. Her neighbors and the property management objected: Public displays of socks and undergarments had no place in their "upscale" neighborhood, they said, and urged her to switch to a tumble dryer - like everyone else.

Taylor refused, citing environmental reasons and energy conservation. In fact, tumble dryers account for 6 percent of all residential electricity used by American households. Then she faced legal action. The 55-year-old housewife then contacted a non-profit organization called Project Laundry List, which helped her battle gain national attention. It pitted property owners' interest in maximizing real estate value in their exclusive neighborhoods against the "right to dry" and save electricity and greenhouse gas emissions.

Global figures support Susan Taylor's defiant stand. The International Energy Agency (IEA) releases a new world energy outlook every year. In 2006, they provided a baseline vision of how energy markets are likely to evolve without new government measures to alter underlying trends and found that global primary energy demand would increase by 53 percent between now and 2030.

Developing countries, led by China and India, account for over 70 percent of this increase. Imports of oil and gas in the OECD and developing Asia would grow even faster than demand, and global carbon dioxide emissions would reach 40 billion tons in 2030, a 55 percent increase over today's level. All these trends spell bad news for climate change.

To respond to the danger, Taylor shows us how to take the first step by finding ways to avoid energy use but more needs to be done. The IEA also has an "alternate scenario" that incorporates climate-saving policies governments are considering today, and its emissions totals are 10 percent lower than in the other scenario - about equal to China's annual carbon dioxide production. Policies that encourage more efficient production and use of energy can contribute to almost 80 percent of the prevented emissions. Better use of electricity in applications including lighting, air-conditioning, appliances and industrial motors accounts for 30 percent of the emissions prevented. Demand-side investments in more efficient electrical goods are particularly economical. On average, an additional $1 invested in more efficient electrical equipment and appliances avoids more than $2 in investment in power generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure.

So, what is the latest and hottest technology that helps to save energy? "Your finger" is the simple answer, says Nigel Jollands, senior analyst on energy efficiency at the IEA. "We already have enough technologies for energy efficient appliances," he said. "We just have to use them." In lighting, for example, compact fluorescent lamps should replace old incandescent ones. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are also better than incandescent bulbs. For consumers, LEDs will be available on a wider scale in the coming years.

The world of new entertainment devices in households is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the devices are becoming more energy-efficient but people are using many more of them. Flat-screen TVs can consume prodigious amounts of electricity, depending on their size, but small flat-screens actually use less energy than old TV sets with a cathode-ray tube monitor.

Jollands is particularly critical of network entertainment devices: "Since they need to communicate, they are using energy, even when they are not in active mode," he said. "The same is true of set-top boxes."

For the same reason, Jonas Mey, energy officer at the German branch of Friends of the Earth (BUND), advises computer users to examine carefully if they really need wireless Internet before they install it. If so he advises to switch it off when not in use. He adds that laptops beat desktops in energy efficiency and older computers, which are good enough for normal use such as surfing the Internet, burning CDs and watching DVDs, consume less electricity than newer ones.

The difference can equal up to 30 percent annually. Activating the power management in the system control of your computer can reduce consumption by up to 90 percent. And the use of time switches or switchable connection plug boards for auxiliary equipment like printers, monitors and scanners is a good alternative to letting them run on stand-by.

In Germany, the stand-by mode wastes a mind-boggling 20.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year. Even though it's always better to turn off whatever is not needed at the moment, there is also hope from new technology. "We ask manufacturers to adopt the 1-watt standard in stand-by mode and some of them told us they could do better than that," said Jollands.

"Green IT" has become a burning issue for big business as well. Computer centers and server farms guzzle more than 4 percent of electricity produced in North America now - and experts estimate annual growth rates of 50 percent. IT corporations like Dell, HP, IBM, Intel and Sun are trying to address the problem with new technologies. One of them is virtualization: It makes computers more effective and reduces energy costs.

In the meantime, Mey has some advice ready for Taylor: "If one can't do without a tumble dryer, then at least spin laundry at the highest rotation speed in the washing machine so it will contain less water. And Americans might like to know that their top-loading machines use much more water and energy than the front-end loaders common in Europe."

- Ulrich Hottelet is a freelance journalist in Berlin.