Attention gadget geeks!
The 2009 Greener Gadgets Conference kicked off today in NYC, and Inhabitat is on the scene, bringing you up-to-the-minute news from this groundbreaking event! We’ll be live-blogging the whole event – right here in this post — so stay tuned (and read below) for frequent updates!
9:30 AM — GREENER GADGETS HAS JUST BEGUN!
The stage is set, the crowds are pouring in, and the 2009 Greener Gadgets conference is about to begin! We’re currently on the scene at the Mcgraw-Hill Conference Center and Jill Fehrenbacher and Marc Alt just kicked off today’s program, followed by introductory notes by Parker Brugge, the Vice President of environmental affairs and industry sustainability the CEA. This morning’s keynote is about to be given by technology renaissance man Saul Griffith.
10:00 AM — OPENING KEYNOTE BY SAUL GRIFFITH
This morning’s keynote was delivered by inventor, entrepreneur, and all-around technology guru Saul Griffith. He gave a broad overarching talk that visualized our out-of-control energy consumption in a series of easily understandable graphs and charts, focusing upon the ways that climate change and energy problems are design issues.
Beginning with an easy-to-understand explanation of energy using simple measurements, Saul went on to characterize his own energy usage in terms of travel by air and car, the requirements of his household and work, the food he consumes, the physical stuff he owns, and the society he lives in. By tallying up all of these, Saul found that his personal energy footprint amounts to 18,000 watts. Next, he took a broader look at the energy use of the rest of the world, quipping “I’m a planet fucker – all of you are too”.
I was surprised to find out that I am a planet fucker…. and I have bad news for you…. You are all planet fuckers too!
Next Saul framed the problem of global warming in terms of a simple choice: what temperature do we choose to live at? Given the current rate of carbon release into the atmosphere, he set a goal of steadying the world’s climate increase at +2 degrees Celsius. In order to meet this target we’ll this we’ll need to mobilize a tremendous amount of resources towards generating renewable energy.
The good news is that in the past 40 years, we have gone from producing 5 TW to 15 TW, so we can produce lots of energy, but now we need to do it responsibly. Drawing on statistics such as how many cars GM and Ford make, he said that industrially producing wind turbines and solar power sources is possible, but we have to re-align where our country puts it resources, and we need to tap the might of major corporations. Saul compared our current situation to the US during WW2, where the government got everyone working on military equipment because we had to. We produced 300,000 bomber planes in a matter of five years by starting up bomber production at refrigerator companies – all hands on deck will be necessary!
In addition to this ‘retooling’ a cultural shift needs to happen. Instead of the culture of throwaway consumption we have today, people need to focus on a culture of heirloom products — a culture of maintenance and repair of long-lasting, cherished, well-made products, rather than constantly buying new cheap goods. Saul admitted that consumer electronics is the hardest field to make this change, because of the culture of planned obsolescence and the need to upgrade gadgets to a newer and faster model every year.
So what does this mean for designers? Designers are now part of an age of consequence.
There is no “away” anymore — When you throw something ‘away’… that ‘away’ is your backyard.
You have to be highly aware of this as a designer,” Saul said. He even proposed a new title for the Greener Gadgets Conference — saying that in an effort to support products that would last for 20 years, we should change the name to ‘Greener Electronic Object d’ Arts’.
10:45AM — MEASURING YOUR HUE OF GREEN
Moderated by BusinessWeek Energy and Environment editor Adam Aston, the day’s first panel convened Aaron Dallek (Co-founder and CTO of Planet Metrics), Stephen Harper (Director of Environment and Energy Policy at Intel Corp), Michael Murphy (Senior Manager of Environmental Affairs at Dell), and Ken Rother (President and COO of Treehugger). The discussion explored the true measure of a green product or service, creating a checklist for designers making the business case for going green.
Adam began the panel by asking how companies prioritize operations versus products. Michael and Stephen both spoke on the importance of increasing energy efficiency within the internal operation of the electronic and technology industry. Planet Metrics founder, Aaron Dallek emphasized the difficulty of measuring a company’s carbon footprint or environmental impact.
Ken Rother, of Treehugger, followed up by pondering consumer interests. He said that consumer interests will be dependent on location. Basically, concerns in New York will differ from policies in other parts of the world – so people don’t know what element to cling onto. While recycling is more readily accessible in part of the world, packaging might be easier to address in another part of the world.
Stephen reminded us that this conference is concerned with the 2% of energy consumption mentioned in Saul’s talk. As the world works towards lowering the other 98% of energy consumption, the 2% of electronics will go up. That’s why it is so essential that technology industries increase their energy efficiency.
In order to make real changes in society, there has to be an effective way to communicate the difference between different products and services. Granting access to this information will encourage companies to be competitive in an eco-friendly economy. How can this be done? A carbon price. Just as consumers count calories and dollars, there needs to be a way to measure carbon footprints.
1:00 PM — GREEN DESIGN FOR GOOD
Today’s next panel just kicked off, with moderator Daniel Sieberg from G Word and Planet Green bringing together Emily Pilloton (Founder and Executive Director of Project H Design), Mark Bent (President and Ceo of SunNight Solar), Rahul Sharma (North American VP of Freeplay Energy, and Gadi Amit (founder and principal of New Deal Design). The discussion will be focused around how emerging and self-sufficient energy technologies can create simple yet life-changing solutions for global dilemmas.
Starting off on a humorous note, Daniel asked why SunNight Solar made a pink model. Mark described the flashlights’ reception in a male-dominated community which prevented distribution to women and children. In order to solve this dilemma, they decided to make pink flashlights, which were associated with femininity and thus taboo to men in the villages. In fact, he reported seeing one man who was so afraid of being seen with the pink flashlights that he was using a stick to move them around and charge them!
Emily talked about the difference between gadgets and technologies, and how Project H recently focused upon designing a system rather than a product. In their recently completed Math Scape they created a universal grid-based teaching system that can be adapted to specific contexts.
Rahul gave a little shout-out to the interweb by examining its roles in product development. He noted that any designer can go to the retailers and find out what customers like and what they do not. Web 2.0 and its interactive nature has created greater transparency and consumers will always drive the agenda.
Emotion can be a big part of design. How do you measure the emotional value of design? Is it through the gratification that its designer gets from it, or is it the benefits it provides to its user? Emily noted that part of good design, as a business, is to think about the best business model for each product – Mark says he has often wondered how to engage a community and provide them with what they really need—do these products provide more value?
Gadi responded to Mark’s thoughts by noting that in history, traditional societies value craft and the history behind it. This led Daniel to ask Emily about happiness, as part of Project H’s mission is to increase happiness. So emotion really is part of good design? It is human nature to embed emotional value in objects, which is how heirlooms are created.
Daniel asked whether the media could be doing more in regards to good design and the environment. Gadi thinks that the media is more focused on hype than it should be, and feels there is a lack of in-depth analysis of product cycles. Mark says that the media has been doing a good job of encouraging people to re-think how we consume as a society. Emily says that the media’s role is two-fold: the first is to tell stories in compelling, human ways. The second is to issue a call to action, informing readers about what they can do to help.
When asked whether the United State’s change in administration would affect consumer interest in greener products, Gadi said that he sees a major shift in the ability of the government to conceive and support massive infrastructure projects. He hopes to see more governmental support for projects like the electric vehicle grid company Better Place.
For the discussion’s closing remarks, Daniel asked each panelist to talk about their hopes for the future of sustainable design. Rahul said that in 10-15 years, he hopes there won’t be a need for green conferences – sustainability be completely integrated within the ethos of how we operate. Emily said that future designs need to be more human centered and focus upon the user rather than the materials. She hopes that future designers will design for empowerment, and not just to make more stuff. Mark hopes that in the future people will work more to care for their common man, and Gadi agrees, saying that he sees a swell in people caring about what they do. He wants to see a world where we consume a very careful number of cherished products that we keep for a long time.
2:30 PM — CLOSING THE LOOP IN CRADLE TO CRADLE
Up next is is a panel that will focus upon closing the loop within the green products industry by developing recycling processes that work. Moderated by Joshua Topolsky (Editor-in-Chief of Engadget), the panel comprises developers of some of the newest and most innovative recycling programs including Ron Gonen (CEO of RecycleBank), Michael Newman (Vice President of ReCellular), Carl Smith (President and CEo of Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp.), and David Thomspon (Director of the Corporate Environmental Department at Panasonic).
The consumer electronics industry acknowledges that one of its biggest concerns is the amount of waste created in the disposal of old electronics at the end of their lifecycle. The good news is that there are several innovative programs that are working hand in hand with the industry to collect many of these products and educate consumers about what they can do to alleviate some of this waste.
What happens once they hit the programs? Ron Gonan of RecycleBank, which offers end-users the unique opportunity to get paid for recycling has two active tenets: 1. Make it convenient and 2. Make it rewarding. Ron explains how important it is to show consumers that there is a monetary value to their old electronics, even though they might consider it junk. Many people do not know that their e-waste is actually purchased by another party so it is crucial to communicate that. Michael Newman of ReCellular points out that about 75-80% of the phones that are turned into their program are still fully functional. People are not turning in their phones because they are broken – they are turning them in because they want the newest and coolest phones.
Another problem that Ron pointed out is that currently, there is no countrywide system in place that rewards people for recycling. As human nature dictates, people rarely do things unless they see a clear reason or incentive to do so. When it comes to recycling, it is all too easy for someone to ask “What’s in it for me?” only to receive the reply “Nothing.” As an example, Ron brings up the 401(k) programs that many corporations offer to their employees as an incentive to save. The success rate of such programs is quite high, and the same model can be applied to recycling. RecycleBank is trying to alter the mindsets of people with their easy to understand incentive program.
Josh asks about the constant stream of laptops, tvs, and other gadgets released every 6 months at trade shows like CES – how can we balance “noble” technological advancements against the drive to constantly produce and sell new units? David says that Panasonic can’t introduce a new computer every 6 months and expect to sell it unless it’s superior to past models, and there are many different innovations that can be achieved. Panasonic is currently making a plasma tv that weighs 50% less than current models – a “noble” technological advancement for a very positive environmental purpose. Carl says that there isn’t a “yes or no” way to qualify a product as green – it’s an attribute that must be balanced towards meeting our environmental goals. Both “greenness” and capabilities must be balanced when releasing new products.
Ron expressed his wish for an infrastructure to be implemented where the government could track the amount of recycling that each household does. This way, the government could easily reward or fine families that took the time to sort and recycle their trash. He explained that he has shown RecycleBank’s business model to the government and they were impressed.
3:45 PM — GREENER GADGETS DESIGN COMPETITION
Allan Chochinov from Core77 just took the stage, and is about to announce the top ten greener gadgets from this year’s design competition! But first we’re taking a look at some of the inspired designs that poured in from around the world. The first round of designs that Allan is highlighting is the “we want this category”. From innovative CFL bulbs to cardboard computers and rollable solar cell flashlights there were a bunch of drool-worthy products in this category.
Next up: the SEX-Y category. Oddly, enough, for some reason the Greener Gadgets Design Competition received a number of humorous sex themed entries this year, including this hilarious piezoelectric ‘Jiggy Bed’ which charges your gadgets through the kinetic energy spent on top of the bed. Tee hee! How could this one not at least make the top 50?
Then there is the ‘Just Stop’ category, which showcased some awesomely useless (but hilarious) designs for things like personal cigarette incinerators, cigarettes which biodegrade into plants (‘Feel good about smoking!’) and a gadget you attach to your dog’s tail to light up your dog at night (‘You can see a sparkling dogs at night’!)
Now the judges panel has taken the stage, and we’re going through this year’s top entries! It was tough to narrow the top 50 projects down to 10 finalists, so they’re currently choosing one last finalist from between the RITI coffee ground printer, Blight solar blinds, ReCompute Cardboard computer, and the Laundry Pod… and based on the audience’s vote, they’ve decided to include the Laundry Pod as a finalist!
The panel is now reviewing each of the ten finalists. Wattblocks are a simple energy saving device that makes it easy to disconnect devices and conserve power. The Bware Water Meter aims to make people more aware of their water consumption by displaying via an easy to read meter that attaches to a faucet. Fastronauts are a set of tot friendly toys that come with their own vehicle that is charged up by motion, teaching kids about renewable energy as they play. The Indoor Drying Rack is essentially an “anti-gadget” – a simple dish rack to be used in lieu of a mechanical dryer. The Tweet-a-watt twittering power meter is up next, and it gets big nods of approval from Jill and Saul for its open-source ingenuity. The Environmental Traffic Light is another open source project that aims to make people more aware of CO2 levels, atmospheric pressure, and other environmental conditions which surround them. Next up: the Powerhog energy monitoring piggybank, which offers a smart way to teach kids the value of electricity. The Thermal Torch is an infrared device that shows where your house is leaking heat, and the Standby Monsters are a series of stickers that visualize energy use in power-sucking gadgets.
The time has come to choose three winning designs from the top 10 finalists, and the judges are discussing their picks for the top three! The Powerhog is in – all three judges are great fans. Tweet-a-watt is in as well – it gets a great reception from the judges and audience alike. The Indoor Drying Rack made the running, but is dividing the audience very heavily – about half of the audience loves it, and half hates it, so the judges have decided to include the Laundry Pod as well – the other anti-gadget laundry entrant. (‘It’s called a bucket!’ – shouts someone from the audience.)
Now the final decision is in the audience’s hands! Allan has an iPhone app to determines the entry that receives the loudest applause, and….drumroll please……
WE HAVE A WINNER!
The top entry in this year’s greener gadgets has just been announced! Congratulations to the Tweet-a-watt, our grand prize winner!