ETech 2009 Wrap-Up: Emerging Tech IS Green Tech
photos by Jaymi Heimbuch
The fact is, a conference on emerging technology didn't have to talk about green at all. There's a whole lot of cool techy stuff coming out that doesn't have much to do with being green. But the theme of green permeated the conference, which means sustainability is part of everything important happening in the technology world. And that's a great thing. Let's take a look back at some of the big green highlights of ETech 2009.
It's In The Tools:AMEE, Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine, is working hard to track the energy consumption of everything, with a goal of making energy consumption and carbon footprints open sourced and tracked, so that everyone has access to and responsibility for their energy identity. Ultimately, AMEE's aim is to make our energy identity something we care about even more than our financial or digital identity.
WattzOn is a big help in making this real as well. They are working on a user-populated embodied energy database, in addition to their excellent personal energy audit toolkit. You can hop on the website and easily find out where you're using up the most energy, and see how to reduce your impact dramatically. Of course, to reduce the embodied energy in products, it starts with a green-thinking designer with the proper tools on hand. Adobe is making designing green products a cinch. With their brains clicking away at all the different software that can help designers create objects that are as sustainable as possible, we'll hopefully soon see a drop in the embodied energy numbers populated on WattzOn and AMEE.
It's In The Design:
Innovation in creating new materials and new ways to use them can help us reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to create plastics, as well as reduce the number of materials we employ to create a product. That innovation extends into re-examining natural materials, like degraded carrots or chicken feathers. Another issue in design and manufacturing open and honest manufacturing methods and materials so that recyclers have an easier time taking apart products and making them useful again. Manufacturers consider a lot of their process proprietary information, and consider recyclers competitors. We need to see a big shift in this mentality if we're going to have sustainable materials choices, and sustainable lifecycle loops for products.
If we want our planet to thrive, we have to change how we design cities and revamp the ones we are already living in. This can actually be a fun exercise, according to Chris Luebkeman of Arup, who poses the question: If you could cut and paste anything out of or into your city, what would it be? And of course we have to design obsolescence out of products. Lane Becker and Thor Muller propose some great ideas, from making everything free to creating more virtual products rather than physical products.
It's In The Gadgets:
Some of the seemingly silly technologies are actually those that can guide us towards off-grid gadget charging, such as Lilypad electronic fashion. Sewing up solar power into your jacket or backpack is already a reality, and Lilypad is a way to DIY some neat fashion that charges via the sun.
Solar power is also incorporated into the Flickr bike, which allows users to document their travels across town. It makes riding an adventure to share, but also holds a lot of potential for documenting the world around us and showing how things can be or are being improved for human-powered transportation, urban habitat, or really anything environmentally-oriented.
Plantr is looking to solve some environmental woes while utilizing unloved cell phones. Their first project involves using cell phones to help connect urban gardeners to their micro-ecosystems and to each other for improved and boosted urban gardening endeavors.
And environmental concerns don't escape makers of major gadgets like laptops. figuring out how to creat low-cost, low-power computing, Mary Lou Jepsen of Pixel Qi has designed energy efficient and cost effective screens used in the One Laptop Per Child project, and the technology is being snapped up by netbook makers. She notes that we're past the CPU wars, and we're now entering into the green screen wars.
It's The Life!
Tim O'Reilly opened the event talking about how it isn't an investment bubble burst we're wading through, it's a reality bubble burst that can be a boon for green technology and our planet. He urges everyone to "Choose your own adventure. Find a place where you can make a difference and make it happen."
A smart place to start is simply setting a good example for the developing world - up-and-coming countries want to emulate first world countries that are guilty of mass over consumption, and that's a problem. Alex Steffen outlined six strategies we can get started on to change our actions and set a positive example for developing countries.
Perhaps one of the most essential changes we can make is returning to the basics, even in urban areas. Mark Frauenfelder of MAKE Magazine took the tech right out of ETech talked about urban homesteading and made it look like one of the most fun and educational shifts city slickers can make in an effort to go green.
While small this year, ETech was an inspiring event to see that those on the cutting edge of technology have a sharp eye on sustainability. Green tech is more than just talk - it's the coming wave of activism. And it's all wired up, waiting for you to connect.