Looking for a greener drive

We needed an external hard drive for the Zumio office, so we decided to run a bit of an experiment to see what was involved in finding a “green” drive. While we knew that in and of itself such a small purchase wouldn’t result in a significant environmental benefit, we saw it as a “test case” of sorts to see what would be involved to make an ethical choice for future hardware purchases.

After a bit of research, we identified the following green external hard drives to review:

Over the jump we discuss the (informal) process we went through, and our frustrations in getting the information we needed to make an informed decision.

Company ratings

First we did a bit of background research on the manufacturers themselves. Unfortunately, the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics didn’t cover the companies we were considering, but we were able to review each company’s Newsweek Green Ranking, their commitment to sustainability, procedures and auditing.

Western Digital ranked No. 336 in US Companies, on there corporate website they state that they are committed to protecting and preserving the environment by, complying with environmental laws and regulations and implementing structures for doing so throughout the company’s structure, including being compliant with RoHS, smaller packaging, using recycled materials where possible.

Seagate Technologies ranked No. 170 in US Companies, they are proactive in the manufacturing an the entire life cycle of their products and their impact globally.

Samsung Electronics ranked No. 54 in the Global Companies, they have detailed information on their website of their commitment to the environment, from the development processes, sustainability operations, chemical management through to their take back and recyclable options, as well as a full listing of their eco-friendly products.

Hitachi ranked No. 31 in Global Companies, I found their website with the amount of detailed information, about their commitment, involvement, development, processes etc. at your finger tips pretty impressive and well worth the look and read. It’s easy to see why they are listed in the top 50 of Global Companies.

All the above mentioned companies have their sustainability reports easily accessible on their websites.

Product considerations

We quickly found that we needed more than the basic information about the product that was provided on the manufacturer’s websites, so we decided to contact the companies via email and ask a couple of questions (far from exhaustive) related to the sustainability of their products:

  • What percentage of % of materials are recycled?
  • What is the energy efficiency, both in use and standby?
  • What is the life expectancy of the product?
  • Are the products Carbon neutral?
  • What is the end-of-life recyclability and take-back options?
  • In regards to packaging, do you use recycled materials, reduced volume/weight to reduce emissions?
  • Low standby energy consumption? (specifically, less than 1 watt)
  • Are the products free from hazardous materials ie. arsenic (glass only), mercury, polyvinyl chloride (packaging only), BFR (brominated flame retardants)?

WD was quite helpful and gave us a detailed response, addressing every question.

Although Seagate did have some information readily available, the response we received from them was short and unhelpful, and I quote in part: “Thank you for contacting Seagate Technical Support, unfortunately we don’t have the details you’re currently requesting, if you are a system integrator or an OEM manufacturer you can contact our sales department…” This was somewhat ironic from a company that states on their website that transparency is good for business, provides visibility throughout the supply chain, and give full materials disclosure.

Hitachi unfortunately never got back to us.

Final decision

While the Hitachi SimpleTech drive seemed to be the best in terms of overall sustainability, it was not available in Australia at the time. The remaining option was the WD My Book Studio II 2TB, but upon closer review of the specifications we discovered that this drive unit had two drives (running in a RAID configuration). So even though each drive runs more efficiently than an equivalent single drive, combined it would result in an increase in energy consumption, as we only really needed a single disk for our requirements.

So, after a lot of effort, in the end we weren’t able to actually buy a more efficient drive for our purposes. It seems we have a long way to go before “Green IT” reaches the masses. It also points to the importance of consistent reporting and labeling, and better informational resources for these kind of purchases.

We ended up purchasing the WD My Book for Mac — not the greenest option, however they are designed to save energy. According to Western Digital, the drive’s “GreenPower Technology” lowers internal drive power consumption by up to 30%, sleep mode reduces power during idle times, and a power-saving feature turns the drive on and off with your computer. The packaging is a small retail box made from recycled materials to minimize waste and they encourage you to recycle it. Given all other things considered, it seemed the most appropriate choice.

If you’ve considered similar factors, have resources to recommend, or otherwise want to share your experience in purchasing green IT, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.