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Fighting Reputation of Waste, Electronics Show Goes Green

Panasonic's Ken Kimura demonstrates a mobile navigation system in preparation for next week's show.
Panasonic's Ken Kimura demonstrates a mobile navigation system in preparation for next week's show. (By Jae C. Hong -- Associated Press)
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By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 5, 2008

The International Consumer Electronics Show will open in Las Vegas tomorrow night with the usual fanfare, talking up new gadgets and technologies and setting this year's stage for the $148 billion industry.

More than 140,000 people are expected to flock to the nation's largest trade show, all hoping to catch a glimpse of newfangled contraptions promoting new ways to watch television, listen to music and talk on cellphones -- or perhaps all three at once. CES is the premier venue for tech companies launching products and striking deals amid the incessant glow of extravagant displays and casinos.

But this year, the show's organizers say they're trying to take steps so that the glow may leave less of a dent on the environment. It's part of a broader public relations campaign to mitigate the industry's reputation as an energy-guzzling business that produces gizmos that aren't easily recycled. Offsetting the environmental impact of the show means eliminating the creation of more than 20,000 tons of carbon.

The show uses as much energy as it takes to power 2,600 homes for a year and the equivalent of 2.3 million gallons of gasoline.

"It's pretty ambitious, considering we're larger than the Super Bowl and all the political conventions," said Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, the Arlington-based group hosting the show.

Recycled carpet, biodegradable plastic utensils, pamphlets printed with soy ink and energy-efficient light bulbs will be used, he said.

Carbonfund.org, an organization in Silver Spring that helps companies reduce their carbon use, calculated the amount of energy consumed at the show. Through Carbonfund.org, CEA has invested in wind farms, solar energy and reforestation projects to try to compensate for the power used by dozens of shuttle buses, the 600,000 hotel rooms and for cooling a show floor the size of 35 football fields.

Efforts to be more eco-friendly will likely extend to many of the 2,700 exhibitors trying to sell their products to consumers willing to pay a premium for sustainable devices, said Albert Lin, an analyst with American Technology Research and a veteran of CES.

"The consumer electronics world is characterized as one of the most ungreen," he said. "The industry is trying to work hard to turn around that perception."

This year, companies will be pushing low-energy devices that replace the lights with long-lasting, light-emitting diodes, TVs that contain more eco-friendly chemicals and a host of recycled cellphones. One company, TrendNet, is selling upgrades to extend the life of wireless routers. And the Environmental Protection Agency has reserved display space to urge people to recycle their electronics.

But the offset does not compensate for the thousands of flights needed to get people to the Nevada desert.

Shapiro said people use the show to network and hold meetings. He estimated that each flight to Las Vegas cuts 156,000 miles of additional air travel attendees would otherwise have had to log in order to meet.

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