Green actions speak louder than words

CES highlights public demands for a concerted power-saving campaign over marketing flair

CES highlights public demands for a concerted power-saving campaign over marketing flair

The 2008 Consumer Electronics Show placed the technology industry's drive for green credibility up for debate, with event organizers claiming the event would be carbon neutral and adopting energy-efficient practices.

CES is as much a competition as it is a trade show, and analysts say the most successful companies at this year's show were the ones that demonstrated their commitment to the environment with ready-to-market products.

Those same experts said that companies who merely used the green "spotlight" to discuss their long-term strategies of becoming a better corporate steward for the environment were viewed as being behind the companies that were putting words into discernable action.

The public is willing to be patient with emerging technology, but is less forgiving when it hears about a company's tentative green plans, followed by the debut of its latest energy-guzzling gadget or a demo promoting flat-screen panels covering the wall in every bedroom.

Howie Kleinberg, SVP of ElectricArtists, a digital marketing and strategy agency, says that Philips' EcoTV was both the media's and consumers' consensus star of the conference. Philips sold its green message with technology that demonstrated substantial energy efficiency, and garnered accolades such as CNET's "Best in Show" award.

"Products that apply real innovation to reducing power consumption and green materials have potential to really stand out," says David Swain, co-clean tech lead and account director at Text 100. "This was the case with [an Eco TV] that makes real and impressive strides in reducing power consumption," he adds.

But other companies fell short of wowing the public with their green offerings, Kleinberg adds.

"Was that a result of the companies or the result of the conference? Maybe a little bit of both," Kleinberg says, referring to the emphasis placed on buzz creation rather than product launches at CES.

Dean Takahashi, a tech columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, says the emphasis on green gadgets at this year's conference did result in complaints against greenwashing.

"Using [green] as a sales pitch to differentiate themselves from another company...," he says, "I find it a little dubious that you can claim that any such gadget is good for the environment."

Historically, consumer electronics have earned a poor "green" reputation for the powerful impact that the industry's manufacturing and waste disposal have had on the environment - not to mention their users' tendency to leave their gadgets powered continuously to avoid losing data or to save a video game.

Since consumers don't expect that many groundbreaking solutions will come from industry giants, smaller companies are gaining green credibility by offering options that move beyond incremental - or tentative - steps. For instance, the Green Plug, a company that offers a universal power adapter, was able to stand behind its message and offer the industry an opportunity for change, Takahashi says.

But unveiling green products was not the only way to show the force behind a company's strategy. Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba used CES to announce a partnership aimed at starting recycling programs to gather old electronics.

"They don't start something like that expecting it's going to be a short-term thing," Takahashi notes.

Although conference organizers received plaudits for their claim that CES would be the largest carbon-neutral event in the world, Takahashi says that carbon-neutral arrangements will have less of an impact for companies if their competitors continue to manufacture products that make real environmental strides.

"The ones that were simply making donations to offset their carbon footprint seemed like they were just late to the party," Takahashi recalls, "and had designed something that was, fundamentally, an environmentally unfriendly product; and the only way they could offset it was to make a donation to go plant trees."

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