By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Excesses often mark the holidays — too much food, too much drink and too much stuff. But it's also a good time to think about what all that stuff might cost us in the long run — and how we can reduce it.

This year, high-tech gadgets are all the rage for presents — and that isn't necessarily bad for the planet. Technology can actually be used to help reduce our environmental footprint. Look at LED Christmas lights. Only a few years ago, not many people had heard of these ultra-bright lights that use just a small fraction of the energy of incandescent bulbs. Today, they are rapidly becoming the norm, and reducing holiday lighting power demands by more than 80 per cent in the process.

LEDs aren't just for Christmas lights, either. Because of their brightness, reliability and low power consumption, they are now being used for traffic lights, vehicle brake and turn signals, emergency lighting, flashlights and even some desk lamps. As the technology improves and the need to reduce power consumption increases, expect to see them more and more often.

Old CRT computer monitors are another example. These weren't just bulky; they used lots of energy and required lots of lead in their manufacturing. Switching to similar-sized LCD monitors saved space on our desks, but more than that, these monitors greatly reduced the need for lead and required less power to run. Ultimately, that means less toxic lead will end up in our landfills and the reduced power demands will help take stress off overtaxed power plants.

Most of us in North America have access to pretty reliable and inexpensive electricity. It seems so clean when it gets to our homes that it's easy to forget much of that electricity is generated by fossil fuels. Depending on where you live, your electricity could come largely from coal or natural gas, hydroelectricity or nuclear power. Renewable energy still plays a very small part in North America, but it is growing.

Regardless of where you live or how you get your power, conservation is always critical. Wasting energy isn't good for your wallet or the environment — especially if your energy comes from fossil fuels that pump heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned. All that greenhouse pollution stays in the atmosphere for a long time and traps heat in the lower atmosphere, leading to global warming.

So what's an eco-conscious tech-obsessed holiday shopper to do? Well, for starters, turn things off! It may seem simple, but people today are so used to high tech gadgets that they simply have them on constantly. Contrary to common belief, computers do not need to be on all the time. And monitors? Don't forget that they usually have a separate power source, so unless they are actually turned off, they will be on the dreaded "standby" mode, where they keep consuming electricity, simply so they can be ready to flash back on in a nanosecond.

But one of the biggest ticket holiday sellers this year will likely be one of the biggest energy hogs too. Giant flat-screen TVs are all the rage and with that increase in size comes an increase in power consumption. LCD displays, while generally more efficient than old CRT displays, are getting much, much larger, often negating any energy savings. And plasma televisions, which use a different technology, are generally far less efficient. In fact, some plasma TVs can use hundreds of watts of power, effectively becoming one of the biggest energy consumers in your home.

So choose carefully this Christmas and look for the Energy Star label. Technology can help reduce your environmental footprint, but it can also make you a Bigfoot. If you aren't careful, you may end up with the television equivalent of an SUV in your living room. And that isn't good for anyone.

December 22, 2006