TreeHugger at CES 2012: Our Hopes and Frustrations for Green In Consumer Electronics

© Jaymi Heimbuch

We're getting prepared for our annual trip to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It is the largest tradeshow for gadgets in the world, and every year we cover what's new in green gadgets, what companies are working on in sustainability, and the trends in electronics that affect the environment.

If this year is like usual, there will be a mix of exciting progress and frustrating disappointment. The exciting progress includes things like new technologies that are directly related to energy efficiency, home energy management, renewable energy, gadgets that help us go off grid and more. The frustrations come with large companies that aren't doing as much as we'd like in areas such as sustainable product design, running robust recycling programs, or steering clear of greenwashing their products.

What We're Looking Forward to Seeing This Year
First of all, there are some interesting talks I have plugged in on my calendar revolving around energy efficiency, renewable energy, developing technology for longer-lasting batteries, developing trustworthy green labels for consumer electronics, and trends such as cloud computing and tablet devices and their roles in the marketplace (and therefore the environmental impacts of these trends).

Also, Douglas Johnson, Vice President of Technology Policy with the Consumer Electronics Association got a hold of me to let me know that "there are a few activities and events related to environmental sustainability and energy efficiency issues" happening, as well as a couple show floor tours that are focused on the topics. I wrote back with my interest so hopefully we'll see some promising information and programs on which I can report back.

What We're Not Seeing This Year
On the down side, no major companies have set up interviews to show off their green side. A couple years ago, companies were falling over themselves to have their sustainability programs highlighted in green-centric media. There was less of that last year, and this year practically none.

For example, Toshiba's media representative simply said they don't know what environmental stuff they have this year that's new and to simply stop by the booth and ask (which in CES code means: stop by the booth, but no one will actually be available to chat with you on the topics). When Pioneer emailed to set up interviews, I asked what environmentally friendly products or programs they have that I could find out about, but the representative flat out said, "We don’t have anything that would be a good fit at this time, but I’ll be in touch should there be in the future."

In other words, green is so 2009. Don't bother us with that this year.

Why Green Isn't A Major Focus This Year
It's hard to blame companies for shifting focus away from their sustainability programs and back on the products. I think there are two reasons for this. First, green is not a priority among consumers as it aaaaaalmost was a couple years ago. Thanks to a tanked economy and the advent of devices like tablets that are pulling focus away from sustainable design and putting it back on competitive features like cameras, displays, touchscreens and so on, companies (and consumers) are wanting to put the focus on what they have to offer consumers in bang for their buck rather than what green they get for the green they're doling out.

© Jaymi Heimbuch

And second is more a hope than a fact. But I optimistically think that another reason companies don't seem to be eager to highlight their sustainability programs or the green side of their products this year is that it has become so much a part of their story that it isn't really separately highlighted. As I noted the last couple times at CES, the companies almost universally had a small but dedicated corner to the eco-friendly side of their company, or at least a sign up with a product to show off the energy efficiency or slightly more sustainable design of the device.

I'm not saying that this means companies are doing enough that they're free to set green aside. They aren't doing enough -- not by a long shot. And CES isn't pushing hard enough to make green a priority. The "Sustainable Planet" TechZone is a joke, and this year it was moved out of the main conference building altogether and put in the Venetian where far fewer people will stumble across it. Not like it's that big of a deal -- the whole zone needed to be majorly reworked if it was to be anything more than a token zone anyway. But still.

© Jaymi Heimbuch

Hopes and Doubts for CES This Year
So, all that said, I have my hopeful doubts for CES this year. Sustainability has seemed to first be niche, then all the buzz, then sent back into the corner. The products and programs specifically related to sustainability -- such as solar products and installation, home energy efficiency tools, rating and labeling programs for electronics such as EPEAT or Energy Star, and even EVs and personal energy chargers -- don't seem to have the presence they had even a couple years ago. And as far as discussion of cradle-to-cradle design, designing for longevity, repair culture for electronics, recycling and e-waste, and many other topics vital to the sustainability of consumer electronics -- well, that barely happens. Yet -- and this is a big yet -- there is some interesting stuff happening. Amid all the hubbub over tablets, touchscreen cell phones, cloud computing, 3D TVs and on and on, there is talk about sustainability.

We're going to do our very best to root out that talk and those products and show them to you next week. I expect this year will be a new challenge, but a fun challenge nonetheless.

© Jaymi Heimbuch

Follow this year's coverage on our CES tag page.

© Jaymi Heimbuch

Past coverage:

2011

CES 2011: Cleantech and Green Gadgets from Las Vegas
CES 2011: How Green Is the Gadget Industry? New Report Talks Progress
Highlights from CES 2011
CES 2011: Does The Sustainable Planet Zone Need to Disappear?
CES 2011: Samsung Shows Off Earth-Friendlier Phones
CES 2011: eddy Wind Turbine Vies For a Spot on Your Roof
CES 2011: Goal0's Off-Grid Solar Power Solutions for Serious Adventurers
CES 2011: Powerful Bike-Powered Light and Charger by Jooyn
CES 2011: Connected Homes and Energy Management Take Center Stage
CES 2011: Solar-Powered iPhone Skins and Robot-Like Roadside Lights
CES 2011: Smart Plugs and Energy Monitors from Intelligy, Current Cots, Modlet and More
CES 2011: What Does the 3D TV Rush Mean For Our Energy Consumption?
CES 2011: Pinpointing Problems With Smart Grid Security
CES 2011: What Does Energy Efficiency Mean for Electronics Innovation?
CES 2011: GE Unveils Our Smart Home of the Future
CES 2011: Tablet Devices Make e-Readers Look So Last Season
CES 2011: Solar-Powered Coolers and Totes From Traveler's Choice

2010

CES 2010 - Nanosys Using Nanotechnology for More Beautiful LED Lighting
Consumer Electronics Show 2010 - A Steaming Pile of Hypocrisy? Does it Really Matter?
CES 2010 - Just How Green Was It? 5 Impressions and Suggestions
CES 2010 - Nokia's Mobile Game and Travel Guide Highlight Green
CES 2010 - EcoNation and Terracycle Turn Out Green(er) Speakers
CES 2010 - Green Tour Highlights Energy Management, Efficiency, Solar
CES 2010 - Greenpeace Ranks Nokia As Top Green Gadget Company
CES 2010 - Martin LaMonica Leads Panel on Getting Gadgets (and Consumers) to Go Green
CES 2010 - Electronic Housekeeper Automates Your Lights, Gives You Weather Reports...Not Much Else (Video)
CES 2010 - YoGen Makes a Splash in Pull-String Charging (Video)
CES 2010 - Ultralast Batteries' Solar Charger and... Specialized Charger?
CES 2010 - Sungen Making Portable Solar Power Easy
CES 2010 - Are Liquid-Filled LED Bulbs Next Generation of LED Lighting?
CES 2010 - Solar Powered iPhone Skins Getting More Popular
CES 2010 - Up Close With LG's OLED Television
CES 2010 - eReaders Go Bonkers At CES, Sales Expected to Double
CES 2010 - Whirlpool's Upcoming Super Efficient Washer, Home Energy Monitor, and Super NOT Efficient Oven
CES 2010 - Nielson Fact Sheet Reveals Surprising Statistics About American Gadget Use
CES 2010 - Bamboo Keyboard, Mouse and Headphones from Impecca
CES 2010 - Sharp Shows Off Solar Powered Car, New LED TVs, and Lovely LED Lights
CES 2010 - CEA Takes A Stab At California Television Efficiency Regulations
CES 2010 - Embertec Cuts Vampire Power With One Device, Zero Effort (Video)
CES 2010 - Ecotouch Dimmer Lets You Skip Expensive CFL Bulbs (Video)
Consumer Electronics Show Dedicating More Space to Green Gadgets
CES 2010 - Horizon's Tabletop Hydrogen Fuel Cells (Video)
CES 2010 - CEA Backs Stance on NYC e-Cycling Lawsuit and California TV Efficiency Regulations (Video)
CES 2010 - Wretched Excess: Bathroom Mirror Televisions and $40,000 Workstations
CES 2010 - PHOLEDs Can Cut OLED Power Consumption By Factor of Four (Video)
CES 2010 - Panasonic's Skype-Enabled TVs Make Teleconferencing More Attractive (Video) CES 2010 - Freeloader Solar Chargers Finally Hitting the US
CES 2010 - CEA Offsetting Energy Use of Tradeshow With Renewable Energy
CES 2010 - Wireless Charging for Everything from Laptops to Hot Pots (Video)
CES 2010 - Recellular Boosting Positive Impression of Buying Used Phones
CES 2010 - Navteq Makes Drivers and Pedestrians More Efficient
CES 2010 - Sanyo's Eneloop Bike May Be a Bike World Game Changer

2009

CES 2009: ThermaPAK Keeps Laptops Cool in a Greener Way
Are Green Gadgets Really Greener This Year At CES?
CES 2009: Powermat Sports Green Charging, Or Does It?
CES 2009: Christopher Knight Helps Kick off Green Plug's First Product
CES 2009: Green Is Here, But It's Sent to Stand in the Corner
CES 2009: Nokia Working to Walk the Green Talk
CES 2009: The Greener Gadgets Wild Goose Chase
CES 2009: Panasonic's Eco Ideas Carnival (Video)
CES 2009: Toshiba's Environmental Initiatives
CES 2009: Planet Metrics Helps Businesses Check on Supply Chains
CES 2009: Hymini Debuts New Renewable Energy Products (Video)
CES2009: Greenpeace Speaks Up About Green Gadgets
CES 2009: Motorola Launches The First Carbon Neutral Cell Phone
CES 2009: eco Take Back Program
CES 2009: Solar Powered Emergency Radio
CES 2009: ecoNEW Offers New TakeBack Program
CES 2009: The 6-in-One Solar Toy Kit
CES 2009: Horizon Renewable Energy Science Kits
CES 2009: Solar and Wind Hybrid Charger from Kinesis Industries (Video)
CES 2009: ReCellular Takes Back Mobile Phones
CES 2009: The ASTAK EZ Reader
CES 2009: Smart Charger Strip Added to Smart Strip Family
CES 2009: Schwinn's Tailwind Bike Uses Exclusive Toshiba Battery Tech (Video)
CES 2009: Liquavista Demos Ultra-Low Power Displays
CES 2009: Eco-Mount a Carbon Neutral Company?
CES 2009: ZigBee's Zone is Hoppin'!
CES 2009: Super Bright Solar-Powered LED Security Light (Video)
CES 2009: Smart Lite Changes the Bulbs, Not the Ballast
CES Gadget: USB Plant Sensor EasyBloom (Video)
CES 2009: LG and GotWind's Mobile Phone Charging Station (Video)
CES 2009: Trickle Star Combats Vampire Power With Simple Device (Video)
CES 2009: TV Zombies Do the Thriller Dance (Video)
CES 2009: PowerFilm's Battery Chargers and $1,000 Solar Blanket
CES 2009: Fuji Rolls Out Greenwashed EnviroMAX Batteries
CES 2009: Visiting the Motorola Renew Mobile Phone
CES 2009: Fun with iGO Chargers (Video)
CES 2009: Toxic TV Zombies Invade Las Vegas
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Gets Its Green On
CES 2009: It's a Wrap! A Review of TreeHugger's Trip to CES

Tags: CES | Corporate Responsibility | Electronics | Gadgets