Our first-of-its-kind Greener Gadgets Conference took place yesterday in New York City, and was a smashing success! We were thrilled to get such a great and diverse line-up of speakers, representing not only business and industry, but also academia, non-profit, students, environmental activists and designers. Not only did we completely sell out of our tickets, but we got people turning out from a wide variety of different industries and backgrounds. THANK YOU so much to everyone who attended and was involved in making the whole event so interesting, fun and fabulous!

To see our photos from the event, check out our flickr feed >

To watch videos and download podcasts from the event, click here >

To read a thorough Inhabitat overview of the event, please read on >


Everyone has been asking about video of the conference and we are happy to announce that we have lots of short videos coming soon. We will be releasing short interview clips, as well as videos of each presentation over the next few weeks, so please check back with us if you missed something and want to watch it online.

So far we’ve seen interesting coverage of the event on CNET, Unbeige, PC Magazine, Treehugger, EcoGeek, Makezine, Wired News, Core77, AOL’s Green Daily, Hearst’s Daily Green, and PC Magazine’s Gearlog, and SmartPlanet. We were particularly appreciative of Unbeige’s thoughtful writeup, as well as the fact that the Wired News’ Underwire noticed our attempts to make sure that all of the details of the event were as green as they could be. We put a lot of time and energy into that, so thanks for noticing!


The two organizers of the event, Marc Alt and yours truly, kicked off the day with a little background on why we started the conference and why we think that a discussion about environmental sustainability in gadgets is so important right now:

+ 400 million consumer electronics are discarded every year
+ E-waste is the fastest growing category of municipal waste
+ Electronics account for 25% of home electricity use
+ The 150 blllion dollar consumer electronics industry is one of the fastest growing industries on the planet

In order to break this overly complicated and complex issue down in manageable topics to discuss, we decided to focus on three elements of gadget sustainability: Materials and Life-Cycle, Energy, and Social Sustainability.


“CELL PHONES” Depicts 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired in the US every day

OPENING KEYNOTE: Digital Photographic Artist Chris Jordan
Chris Jordan opened up the Greener Gadgets Conference with a compelling presentation of his photographic artwork. He showed many of his aesthetically beautiful yet disturbing digital images of electronic waste and plastic trash. Jordan attempts to “show the scale of mass consumption” through his artwork, turning those statistics that we so often read about into visual representations that pack more of an emotional punch than statistics ever can.

Chris Jordan closed his presentation by making the point that the electronics industry has a great potential to bring “coolness” to the green movement that it is currently lacking. He used Michael Jordan’s iconic persona in basketball as an example and urged that the green movement needs a similar champion. Can green gadgets do for sustainability what Michael Jordan did for basketball? We’re not sure, but it was an interesting and provocative point to start the day on.

Chris Jordan website

+ Chris Jordan creates beauty from e-waste
+ Chris Jordan Running The Numbers


DESIGN KEYNOTE: Mary Lou Jepsen – One Laptop Per Child

Mary Lou Jepsen, the former Chief Technology Officer of The One Laptop Per Child Project, opened up her design keynote presentation by explaining the new sustainable technologies that are being used in the new XO laptop. The XO has received a lot of attention for being a groundbreaking educational tool, but what many people don’t realize is that it is ALSO the greenest laptop ever created — mainly due to Mary Lou’s innovations in laptop engineering. Because of this, it was fascinating to hear Mary Lou Jepsen talk about all of the innovative new green technologies that went into the development of the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop. A lot of these sustainable innovations in screen brightness, energy efficiency and portable mobile power were developed out of pure necessity for the way in which the laptops are intended to be used (outdoors by children in the sunlight).

Jepsen provoked the audience (many of whom were industrial designers), when she said: “If we rely on industrial designers to lead the green revolution in electronics and gadgets…we will fail.” Jepsen’s point was that engineering technology needs to be the real driver. She said that she started working on the XO after many people told her that it couldn’t be done. She thought, “If people say it’s impossible, that must be an interesting project, I’ll do that.”

We heard some heavy debating going on the halls between designers and engineers after Mary Lou’s presentation, so clearly she riled some people up with her comments about technology versus industrial design. But we think her point was very astute, and it certainly gave us lots to talk about over the course of the day!

Jepsen is now working on PixelQi, a spinoff of OLPC. PixelQi is working on applying technology from the XO to other laptops and devices. The more that these components are produced, the less expensive those components will be for the XO. Mary Lou Jepsen’s smart approach to business, technology, and sustainability is a great model for development.

+ One Laptop Per Child
+ Mary Lou Launches PixelQi


Speakers: Jeff Omelchuck (EPEAT, Green Electronics Council), Rene St Denis (HP Product Takeback and Recycling), Grant Kristofek (Sustainability Champion, Continuum), David Conrad (Head of Environment for North America, Nokia), Andrew Dent (Vice President Materials & Director of Library, Material ConneXion), Douglas Smith (Director, Corporate Environment, Safety and Health, Sony)


The Materials and Lifecycle panel discussion was an interesting mix, with three people from the consumer electronics industry, (David Conrad from Nokia, Douglas Smith from Sony and Rene St Denis from HP), along with Andrew Dent from Material ConneXion, and Jeff Omelchuk from the nonprofit EPEAT. The main topic of the discussion was electronic recycling and reverse logistics, specifically how we should go about both receiving used electronics from consumers and then dismantling, disposing, and reusing materials from electronics.

Andrew raised an interesting question when he suggested that electronics manufacturers pursue a rental model, rather and an ownership model, so that the product’s return is built into the process. Rene responded that HP does this with enterprise customers, but it’s more difficult with personal computing consumers. Grant proposed a hybrid model, comparable to Netflix: you own the product and keep it as long as you want, and when you return it, you get a replacement.

Everyone seemed to agree that we need to provide more education to consumers, which would in turn lead to a shift in values and priorities. Rene aptly noted that the two groups that weren’t represented in the panel: consumers and the government, both of whom are crucial to enacting the kind of change we need.

During the Q&A period, one audience member asked about why there isn’t more standardization and modularization of components, which could allow end-users to upgrade their devices themselves. David Conrad admitted that this hasn’t traditionally been the approach to development, but we at Inhabitat certainly think such flexibility is a great approach for consumer electronics manufacturers to pursue.


The main point of John’s talk was that responsible design is smart business. He talked about how HP’s approach to sustainable products can create a competitive advantage, bring in new customers, reduce costs, and build up a brand.

He also noted two commitments that HP has made in 2008: 1) All PCs will use 25% less energy by 2010, and 2) Change manufacturing process to use recycled content in new inkjet cartridges. We certainly appreciate HPs public declarations of their sustainability goals, and hope they keep pushing them. John also talked about power use, which emerged as the big topic of the day.



Valerie Casey of IDEO moderated the ‘Energy Efficiency’ panel discussion with Ryan Block (Editor-in-Chief, Engadget), Gregg Chason (VP Industry Affairs & Relations, Philips Consumer Lifestyle North America), Douglas Johnson (Senior Director, Tech Policy & International Affairs, CEA) and Allyson Klein (Manager, Server Tech and Software Strategy, Server Platform Group, Intel Corp).

The discussion ended up focussing mainly on how electronics companies can better communicate their product’s sustainability, especially energy efficiency, so that consumers can make informed decisions. Ryan proposed a standardized labeling system, similar to the FDA’s Nutrition Facts labels on food packaging. Valerie referred to EnergyStar products as being in a “bucket,” where consumers both know neither how EnergyStar compliance is defined, nor how to distinguish extremely efficient products from less efficient ones.

Valerie also mentioned an Eco-Patents Commons between IBM, Sony, Nokia and others, where these companies share patents related to environmental responsibility, and such collaboration is crucial to greener gadget efforts.

During the Q&A session, Mary Lou Jepsen questioned Allyson about the power consumption of Intel’s chips, since the team at OLPC has made some significant innovations in that arena. Mary Lou offered to work with Intel on such work, and Allyson said she’d love to talk with Mary Lou after the panel. It was a fun moment, and it’s exactly what this conference is about!


PANEL DISCUSSION: Emerging Forms of Mobile Renewable Energy, Moderated by Katie Fehrenbacher

In this last panel of the day, we got a real look into the future. From MTI’s micro fuel cell to Solio’s portable solar charger, from the HYmini wind generator to M2E’s kinetic energy charger that uses power generated by the movement of people walking around, the technology shown was really exciting.

Katie Fehrenbacher (Earth2Tech) asked what some barriers to mass adoption were, and a couple panelists mentioned battery efficiency. It was valuable that Christina from Boston Power was on the panel, as her company’s efficient and environmentally responsible battery might provide some answers.

Regan from M2E also talked about the high degree of skepticism about kinetic energy-powered devices, but M2E uses magnets, and it works. We can’t wait to see this amazing new technology in our cell phones!


CLOSING KEYNOTE: Inventor & Technoartist Natalie Jeremijenko

We started the day with two keynotes: one with an artist and one with an innovator in education. This last keynote was given by Natalie Jeremijenko, who is an artist, an academic, an activist, and quite a bit more. It’s hard to confine Natalie to any labels, because her inspiring work spans many disciplines.

Natalie talked about how she’s looking for new ways to restructure manufacturing practices, which she calls “the most toxic of human activity.” With her students, she developed How Stuff Is Made, a collection of visual essays on how different products are made.

Like Chris Jordan, Natalie is looking to make invisible data visible. She works with students to modify consumer-grade robotic toys to sniff out toxic waste. All of Natalie’s work was really inspiring, and she’s redefining how we use technology and interact with devices.

Stay tuned for the results of the Greener Gadgets Design Competition!

To see our photos from the event, check out our flickr feed >

To watch videos and download podcasts from the event, click here >

To read a thorough Inhabitat overview of the event, please read on >


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  5. Marcus Tay February 26, 2008 at 9:23 am

    If Leopald Mac Ender really feels that you have a great idea to save the planet and just need money to realise it, why not try the virgin earth challenge?

  6. Lagavulin February 5, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    I’m not exactly sure what Leo Mac Ender was trying to say, but I suspect it has something to do with how the great majority in the emerging “green” movement don’t really seem all that interested in saving the world at all. Mostly, it seems, people are just hoping to feel better about how we’re destroying it.

    “Greener Gadgets”? Is that really any kind of answer? It reminds me of a statement by environmental sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson in a recent interview where he stated that the term “sustainability” doesn’t even mean sustainable any longer for most people. It means “let’s continue to do what we’re doing, but somehow get away with it”.

    It’s just like how “organic” stopped being a movement and instead became merely a label. If “green” isn’t a values-based system — if it’s not fundamentally about leading a different way of life — then all we’re doing is just whistling into the wind, aren’t we?

  7. Leo Mac Ender February 4, 2008 at 5:31 am

    This is very good and will someaday lead to somewhere somehow.
    But HOW MANY have done something for real?
    This is big words from me but I could save the world if I finde some group or Company who really understand what I have done and will be able to do in the future.
    Floating POWERstations in ANY rivers in USA will take care of ALL Power for US, ALL power.
    There is allso solutions so we do not have to use ANY gasoline or oil at all, ever.
    I have surched people like AL GORE but they are yest turning arround and will do nothing at all about how to safe the world, they think that TALK will safe the world. .
    I do not think talking people really like to safe the world from more pollutions, not at all.
    I have the total solutions, welcom who ever it will be, to see that I´m not joking.
    All the best to they who REALLY doing och like to do something.
    If you are REALLY interested welcome to my world for saving the globe.
    Leopold Mac Ender

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