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