CES 2011: Does The Sustainable Planet Zone Need to Disappear?


Photos via Jaymi Heimbuch

Every year I'm saddened by the small size of the Sustainable Planet Zone at CES. I always hope that the next year, it'll be bigger as more companies creating greener innovations sign on to show off their wares. However, this year it seems to be even smaller than last year, with barely any booths at all. Maybe it's time for the Sustainable Planet Zone to disappear altogether. I'm definitely not done reporting on eco-friendlier gadgets found at CES, including those found in the Sustainable Planet Zone, but I have to pause and make note of the zone itself.

For one thing, it's mislabeled. Only a handful of the items in the zone would really help shrink our footprints, and that's the smart plugs and the renewable energy products. The water-powered toys and solar-powered stuff (that's all it is...stuff) don't actually help us reduce our footprints. The real sustainable stuff is already incorporated into the show at zones like ZigBee, Control4 and HomePlug, which all deal with monitoring and managing energy use in homes and offices, or in individual companies' booths like Panasonic, Samsung, Toshiba and other companies working on lightening the environmental footprint of their processes and products. Even other companies that have some interesting renewable energy-powered products are off in the zones with similar products regardless of power source, rather than sequestered in this "green" zone. What's left in the Sustainable Planet Zone kind of puts a tarnish on the idea of sustainable electronics, and it's like a catch-all for anything that doesn't seem to fit elsewhere.

Plus, you could hold your breath, look at every booth, and still not be blue by the time you're done. (Except for the GE Connected Home booth next door, which is big, interesting, and a post about it is coming soon.) This zone is tiiiiinny, especially in comparison to the massive tradeshow as a whole.

I almost can't believe I'm saying this, but maybe it's time for the Sustainable Planet Zone to disappear, incorporated into the rest of the show. If CEA isn't going to put some really serious effort into corralling companies into putting their booths -- or even small satellite booths -- here for software and hardware that makes an actual difference for our environment, then we need to get over the idea of a special zone for green and get it moved into the rest of the show in relevant places.

What could happen instead is a boost of zones like "Renewable Energy" or "Solar Power" or "Green Software" or something along those lines. The loss of special attention on "sustainable" gadgets could be worth it as greener gadgets become a mainstreamed part of the show. As is, it's a sad little corner that most people probably don't even notice, or avoid since they think they don't have an interest in anything they'd see there.

It's a sad thing to say, and it's definitely up for debate, but after seeing this year's Sustainable Planet Zone, I'm wondering if it's just too sad to survive.

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Tags: CES | Corporate Responsibility | Electronics | Environmental Footprint | Gadgets

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