Some Lean, Green Energy-Saving Machines A little inconvenience might be a good thing. Green "gadgeteers" Jill Fehrenbacher and Allan Choconov explain why.
NPR logo

Some Lean, Green Energy-Saving Machines

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Some Lean, Green Energy-Saving Machines

Some Lean, Green Energy-Saving Machines

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Okay, I know you hate this. I hate it when your cell phone battery clunks out in the middle of a conversation, I swear, Alison, this is always happening to me. My battery is always low, it's a running joke among my family and friends. SO much so that I carry a charger in my purse just in case, but it's often super annoying to try and find an outlet. And that's precisely one of the issues that new greener technology is hoping to address. So that we can use solar and wind to charge our phones instead of relying on wall outlets.


I like it.

MARTIN: Yeah, sounds good right? Two green gadgeteers stopped by the studio yesterday to talk about this concept and lean, green energy-saving machines. Allan Chochinov is editor in chief of the design network He teaches industrial design at Pratt Institute and he was a judge in the recent Greener Gadgets Competition. Jill Fehrenbacher is editor of and co-founder of the recent Greener Gadget conference which took place earlier this month in New York.

Here, she talks about one of the devices on display at the conference. It's called the Hymini and it's a portable charger. It looks like a giant plastic lima bean, about the size of your hand. Here she describes.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JILL FEHRENBACHER (Editor,; Co-Founder, Greener Gadget Conference): So, it's like a little portable windmill. You can charge your phone, iPod, camera, any small devices just having the wind turbine moving.

MARTIN: And how fast does the air current have to be going to get that thing to move?

Ms. FEHRENBACHER: You mean - you need to, you know…

MARTIN: Can I just walk down the street?

Ms. FEHRENBACHER: I don't think you'd be very successful walking on the street with it. I mean, you could try. But I think the main goal of this is or the main point of this is that you'd hook it up to the handlebars of your bike.

MARTIN: And how much does this retail for?

Ms. FEHRENBACHER: This is roughly, I think, $50. Something like that.

MARTIN: What was some of the most innovative things that you saw on the competition?

Professor ALLAN CHOCHINOV (Editor In Chief,; Co-Founder, Greener Gadget Conference): What really came across was this notion of participation. That is the user actually was involved in creating the energy for the device, then they would sort of love it more and care about the whole sort of premise of the thing. And the winning design, actually Enerjar, wasn't even a commercializable product. This was a D.I.Y., a do it yourself product that you actually build an energy meter yourself in a jam jar. It sits between the wall plug and your devise. So you can plug a toaster into it and it into the wall and it will tell you how much power the toaster is taking up or blow dryer which take a lot, for instance. Or you can plug the laptop and measure that and especially when the laptop is off. It still take power. Vampire power it's called.

MARTIN: What was some of the other trends that you saw in the entries?

Prof. CHOCHINOV: My favorite was Green Cell by Theo Richardson. And this to me was really right on. His concept was that you standardize the battery for all gadgets - for all cell phones, MP3 players, etcetera. And so you're not dealing with proprietary batteries from different cell phone companies and different consumer electronics manufacturers. That itself is sort of a bureaucratic business, you know, bureaucracy problem. But on top of this gesture of standardizing the battery, he rendered up theses vending machines so that you would simply deposit your spent battery in the vending machine and get a new one. And you could belong to this program, there would be a deposit. And so it would be as simple as, you know, buying a can of soda. And, you know, cans are standardized and the return system is relatively standardized across this country. You know in five cents, whatever it is.

When we looked at that solution, it just sort of - it pointed to the fact that this doesn't really have to be rocket science. That battery should be standard and that there should be vending machines. These were greener batters, I forgot to mention. And that you could actually close the system. One of the problems with sustainability is that some materials and products aren't inherently bad, they're just bad because we can't get them back because they just sort of disappear to garbages and landfills and they get lost or they get tucked in to drawers. This is something I was actually talked about quite a bit in the conference. But if we could close the system, if we could get these things back, and particularly the batteries because they're a little bit nasty, then we a system where we sort of know where everything is. And if people can subscribe to this system and actually use these Green Cell branded batteries, get them from the same vending machines that they give them back into when they're spent then we've closed the system. We've create a sustainable service, in a way, versus a product design. This is a service design. And to me, that that was a really, really forward looking.

MARTIN: I imagine when you're walking around in that world, just a competition, you got 61 countries represented, everyone is a buzz with excitement and ides, innovation. What was some of the things - the ideas floating in the ether(ph) that weren't necessarily represented in eh competition but are on the horizon? What is the future, Allan? What kind of ideas did you see that haven't even necessarily been realized like the most fantastic ideas?

Prof. CHOCHINOV: Well, an idea that's very compelling right now is Bruce Sterling's concept of an Internet of things. This is a notion that is similar t the bar codes that we have on virtually all consumer products right now and the RFID, radio frequency identification tag that we're starting to see show up in more and more places, that when that stuff becomes more and more ubiquitous -really sort of built in to the biology or the materiality of the thing - that all stuff will sort of be knowable. You know he talks about this example where you can Goggle your toaster.

MARTIN: Why would I want to do that?

Prof. CHOCHINOV: Well, actually you'd want to do it for many, many reasons. If everything is trackable, then that toaster would know everything about itself. It would know what material it was made of so you could compare it with other toasters, it would know what factory that it was built in and again it would know the labor practices in those factories. It would know how long it sit on a shelf in a warehouse that it wasn't, maybe, so new. For a toaster that may not be an issue but freshness might be a very important issue for other kinds of products, services.

I would know actually how many times it was picked up on the shelf and put back down on the retail environment and not purchased. I think a lot of people will be very interested to hear that piece of information. And we haven't gotten to the point where anyone ahs bought it or used it at all. And then it would never be thrown away because of all of these parts were knowable where they were, there would be no waste because material and parts are always of use to somebody.

And so this kind of utopian view of what might be coming around the bend. There's actually quite a green story to it.

MARTIN: Do you think people really want to know that information? I mean, when you tell me that, oh, my gosh. All of a sudden I have the life history of every appliance in my apartment. It seems overwhelming to me.

Prof. CHOCHINOV: Well, you choose to know.

Ms. FEHRENBACHER: I think it's kind of a gradual thing too. I mean I don't think that every one is going to want to know every detail about the toaster necessarily but, you know, comparison shopping is already very popular. And people go to, you know, different Web sites - you know, or whatever to compare different things to see what's the best price. What kind of review something has. And, you know, then this is just a step in that direction. You know, it adds more details to how much you can find out about what…

Prof. CHOCHINOV: And there's all sorts of information about all sorts of things right now, that are floating around, that you've elected not to know about. This is just sort of another subset of information. What's interesting about this subset, however, is that it has a real consequence.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. CHOCHINOV: That industrialization and mass production has huge consequence on the planet, on our lives, on our health, on our children and on our culture. So we actually need to know this information. It's sort of about time that we knew more of this information and I think in some of the news stories, you're starting to see people waking up to the facts that products create consequence and that we need to sort of understand whether that's toys that might be dangerous to us, or food that might be dangerous to us or health procedures that might be dangerous to us. And I think everyone can agree that more information, more knowledge about these where we're informed consumers and sort of this sense, we're going to be better consumers.

MARTIN: We can imagine a time where like I would buy a can of chili at a grocery store and look at the calorie content. I could buy a lamp and it would have some kind of meter that would say if you plug this into such and such, this is…

Prof. CHOCHINOV: Sure. And that's not far from what we have now in energy star. And this was actually talked about in the conference, you know.

Ms. FEHRENBACHER: and just to point - was going to add earlier, I just heard something on NPR this morning about toys and parents being concerned about lead in their toys and not being able to find out what is in their toys and where they're made. Particularly, you know, like dollar stores and things like that. There's no way of tracking where those things come from and what's in them and something like this would really help with that.

Prof. CHOCHINOV: There's demand. It's not like, oh, you here's this information, don't you want to know? Parents are actually crying out to know. And, you know, markets love when there's sort of - they can recognize a demand and provide a service to meet that demand. SO I think that this is, in a way, very urgent right now. So, perhaps that's next.

MARTIN: Thank you guys.

Prof. CHOCHINOV: Thank you.

Ms. FEHRENBACHER: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Alan Chochinov and Jill FEHRENBACHER

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.