Acton Institute Powerblog

The Complexity of ‘Green’ Computing

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As I alluded in a post last week, a number of EU governments are intent on making a switch from Windows to Linux operating systems. Part of the reason for this is the ostensibly cheaper cost of using open source software as opposed to proprietary systems.

According to reports out of the UK, “Shadow chancellor George Osbourne has estimated that the UK government could save in excess of ꍠ0 million a year if more open source software was deployed across various departments.” And of course costs are likely to be lower when regulators take an active hand in lowering the ongoing fees associated with open source compatibility. Such actions hide the true costs of open source operating systems, giving them an artificial cushion.

But one other interesting factor in the claim that Linux is cheaper to run than Windows comes from the environmental considerations involved. This article (HT: Slashdot) makes the case that Linux rigs are “greener than those running Windows” because “open source software has lower hardware requirements and needs less frequent hardware refreshes.”

Interestingly enough, that’s the same claim made by Apple in a recent Mac v. PC ad:


But then again, the costs associated with hardware upgrades aren’t the only relevant environmental factors to consider. Think about the ways in which companies have or have not worked to create responsible disposal methods for outdated or obsolete equipment. This latter consideration, in fact, is one of the reasons why Greenpeace has said that Apple “has the worst environmental policies among major electronics companies.”

PC manufacturers like Dell, on the other hand, have been praised for having “one of the best recycling programs in the industry.”

Judgments about the cost-effectiveness and environmental costs associated with the latest generation of computer hardware and software need to go beyond short-term examinations of the one-time costs of upgrades, or even the long-term hardware needs. The ‘greenness’ of computing can’t be measured by just one standard.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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