Environmentally Friendly Goods Buzz at CES

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A big theme at the Consumer Electronics Show is environmentally friendly products. Some of the latest gadgets boast using less packaging, recycling metals, and putting a message on phone screens that tells consumers to unplug the power pack once the phone is fully charged.


As we just heard, there was no fancy technology available to Sir Edmund Hillary, to help him conquer Everest. Things like GPS and other high-tech equipment that climbers take for granted today. Equipment that is on display in abundance this week at the Consumer Electronic Show, or CES. And a big theme at this year's show has been environmentally friendly products.

NPR's Laura Sydell looked at just how green these gadgets are.

LAURA SYDELL: No, it doesn't look green, 1.7 million square feet of show space with hundreds of flat-screen TVs, stereo systems, computers and cell phones sucking energy. But green is the color many manufacturers are wrapping themselves in, at least metaphorically.

Dave Conrad heads the environment division of Nokia North America.

Mr. DAVE CONRAD (Head, Environment Division, Nokia North America): I got consumers and customers coming to us and asking us for environmental performance in this way or that way and it makes my job a whole lot easier and a lot more fun.

SYDELL: The Nokia booth has an exhibit about every stage of life of a Nokia phone.

Mr. CONRAD: We're talking about supply. We're talking about manufacturing and R&D, where we've got design for environment engineers that are doing some of the things that you see behind me.

SYDELL: Things like using less packaging, recycling metals from their products, and putting a message on their phone screens that tells consumers to unplug the power pack when it's fully charged.

The organizers of CES are stressing the green theme this year. There's a special zone for more traditionally green tech, like solar-equipped briefcases for charging your laptop and hydrogen fuel cells for powering your phone. Then, there's the whole itself.

Mr. PARKER BRUGGE (Senior Director, Consumer Electronics Association): We've looked from everything, to the cleaners in the bathroom to the utensils being used for the food.

SYDELL: And every item is non-toxic and can be recycled, says Parker Brugge, senior director and environmental counsel for the show's sponsor, the Consumer Electronics Association. Even the carpet here is recycled.

Despite all the talk about being green, consumer electronics are using more of the nation's energy supply every year, says Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the environmental group NRDC. He says, in many homes, consumer electronics are responsible for between 15 to 20 percent of the electricity bill.

Mr. NOAH HOROWITZ (Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council): And why is that? Homes have one, two or three computers in their home where they didn't have any before? Your TV used to be 25 inches, now it's 50 inches. Now, you have a TiVo box, a game console, and so forth.

SYDELL: Horowitz says many game lovers leave their consoles on day and night because when they are in the middle of a game, they can't save it if they turn it off. TiVo boxes are always consuming power even when not in use, and a 50-inch plasma TV uses about as much energy in a year as a refrigerator.

Still, back on the floor at CES, plasma TV makers tout environmental credentials.

SYDELL: I'm standing in front of Panasonic's area at the Consumer Electronics Show, and they have, right here, a sign that says eco ideas, and they advertise that we will produce energy-efficient products. However, Panasonic is also the company that has the largest television screen here. We're going to take a look at that.

Unidentified Man: Panasonic ideas…

SYDELL: It's Jeff Holman's(ph) job to sell this TV for Panasonic.

Mr. JEFF HOLMAN (Salesman, Panasonic): I am 6 foot 3 and it takes two of me to reach from one end to the other, and it's a little bit taller than I am in height.

SYDELL: That's 150 inches of plasma TV, and it draws one of the biggest crowds at CES. I asked Panasonic vice president, Jeff Cove, exactly how much power it uses.

Mr. JEFF COVE (Vice President, Panasonic): I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SYDELL: But Cove assures me Panasonic has already decreased the amount of power needed to support their TVs, and power efficiency is getting better with every new model. There is a sense, among environmentalists, that the electronics industry is truly becoming more conscious of its impact on the environment.

Jeff Omelchuck, executive director of the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool or EPEAT.

Mr. JEFF OMELCHUCK (Executive Director, Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool): The problem continues with consumers is how would a consumer know whether a product is green or not.

SYDELL: EPEAT rates PCs and puts a stamp of approval on them. The new federal energy bill will eventually require labels on electronics that say how much energy it uses. Still, many here say that the first question customers ask when buying a TV set is not how green, it is how good is the picture.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: To see some of the technologies creating a buzz at this year's CES, stop by

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