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CEA Conference Outlines Eco Challenges

The Greener Gadgets Conference, sponsored in part by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), outlined pressures our environment is under and the challenges the industry faces in developing eco-friendly products.

Several speakers at the event, held at the McGraw-Hill building, here, on Feb. 26, said that for consumers to adapt to new energy efficiencies, recycling education and perhaps fees and fines might have to be imposed.

Saul Griffith, an entrepreneur with several start-ups to his credit and multiple degrees in materials science and mechanical engineering, gave a sobering keynote on the perils of relying on carbon-based fuels for energy.

Griffith said, “We now have to choose where humanity should go” in terms of the environment. If energy habits aren’t changed, and rather quickly, worldwide temperatures will go up 1.5 degrees to 3.5 degrees, Griffith said. That would mean a catastrophic impact on the environment later in this century.

Griffith said, “The business models of the future” — especially for CE — would include “heirloom products” that would use one-tenth of the power of current products or would be upgradable to last 10 times longer. The throw-away nature of many CE products won’t be tolerated.

He urged any CE suppliers in the audience to “get involved in more video conferencing products” because energy savings will mean less business travel in the future.

In a panel called “Closing the Loop in Cradle to Cradle,” David Thompson, corporate environmental department director of Panasonic; Carl Smith, president/CEO of the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. (RBRC); Michael Newman, VP of ReCellular; and Ron Gonen, CEO of RecycleBank, each outlined their recycling programs and the need for more consumer education on the problem, which could include rewards for those who recycle.

Thompson, who also runs Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management (MRM), a joint venture in the U.S. of Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba, said the operation has 280 drop-off points for products nationwide. “That’s not enough for the entire country but we have a 400- to 600-location target over the next two years. We need collaborative efforts like this,” between manufacturers and collaborations with governments.

RBRC is a 15-year effort that recycles 7 million pounds of rechargeable batteries every year, Smith said. There are 40,000 sites nationwide and, unlike ReCellular, which repackages 75 percent to 80 percent of all the cellular phones they receive because they are not damaged, Smith said all of the metals in the batteries it processes are reused by industry.

Newman of ReCellular sounded the alarm that even today, with such programs in place “80 to 90 percent of CE products are not recycled. There aren’t enough drop-off places. Even though consumers care about the environment, many won’t take the time to find out about recycling.”

Gonen, whose RecycleBank provides consumers with points that they can use to shop at many participating businesses, said, “We have to come up with a system that with either ‘reward’ consumers who recycle or ‘fine’ those who don’t.”

The “Measuring Your Hue Of Green” panel had executives from Intel, Dell and environmental experts, who discussed new energy guidelines for CE products.

Aaron Dallek, co-founder of Panel Metrics, said that to educate consumers, a product label should indicate how much energy was used in the manufacture and sale of the product.

Stephen Harper, environment and energy policy director for Intel, said for consumers to take notice of the problem, “it has to hit them in the pocketbook with some type of a carbon-focused tax.”

The panelists also agreed that better recycling programs and longer life cycles of products with software upgrades should be goals, but as Harper of Intel said, “Do we want 25-year-old cellphones that can be updated with software? Consumers would probably get sick of [their phones].”

For more on the Greener Gadgets Conference see And look for TWICE’s Going Green special report in our March 30 issue.