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Consumers Don’t Buy Green Electronics

In a previous post on environmentally-friendly consumer electronics, I wondered if they really spurred consumers to purchase. According to the New York Times, not so much:

Being ”green” is all the rage with technology companies these days, but what’s not clear is whether or not the environment-friendly approach is bringing in more greenbacks.

Tech buyers say they desire devices that are kind to the environment, but they haven’t shown a strong predisposition to buy them — except when it saves them money.

The lesson here is pretty obvious: few people are willing to put their money where their self-righteous mouths are. If you want to significantly alter the environmental impact of consumer electronics outside of a government mandate, you need to show some kind of compelling value beyond the cachet of being “good for the environment.” (This is itself a dubious proposition: to wit, does it mean low energy consumption or sustainable manufacturing or both or neither? What are the metrics?) The good news is that there is value to be had in energy efficient devices – both for consumers and manufacturers – if properly marketed (though I would not suggest using Al Gore’s son as your spokesperson).

Amory Lovins has a fascinating lecture on a somewhat related topic here. The upshot is that we can dramatically reduce our energy consumption through the private sector on a for-profit basis. His talk focuses more on oil consumption, but I think the general point applies broadly. Efficiency makes good business sense and right now, most U.S. businesses and homes are run extraordinarily inefficiently.

Pressure to make electronics more efficient will likely only build. There’s a report out of Britain noting that consumer electronics could account for more than half of a household’s energy use.

According to Reuters:

Flat-screen televisions, computers and other hi-tech gadgets will use nearly half of a typical British household’s total electricity by 2020, an energy conservation body said in a report on Wednesday.

Britain’s Energy Saving Trust (EST) said consumer electronics will overtake kitchen appliances and lighting as the biggest single drain on domestic power.

Its report, “The Ampere Strikes Back,” said new devices are often more power-hungry than earlier models and many are left on standby rather than being switched off. Some don’t even have an “off” button.

MyGreenElectronics has a nifty little energy calculator that lets you gage the energy consumption of various CE products. Apparently my house is single-handedly despoiling the planet.