I did some live blogging at last week's 2009 Greener Gadgets Conference, which was a blast (and I met some other great green bloggers from Green Upgrader, The Fun Times Guide to Living Green and conference co-founder Inhabitat, as well as old friends).
A lot of exciting ideas emerged from the conference, which was produced by the Consumer Electronics Association, including ways to save energy, promote good green design, and improve corporate responsibility. I probably could have written a dozen posts based on the learning and information exchange there. Alas I only had time to get one off (in part because I was co-hosting a green blogger and social media meetup that evening). But, I'm taking some recent advice I got for blogging journalists to heart, and I'm going to post the remainder of my notes from the conference.
The following are my raw notes from the 2009 Greener Gadgets Conference, lightly edited for clarity.
Michael Murphy, senior manager of worldwide environmental affairs for Dell, told the conference audience that the influential computer maker "advocates producer responsibility. We offer free consumer recycling globally," said Murphy. "And 85% of what we take back we reuse. We make sure the remainder gets responsibly recycled."
Mark Bent of BoGo Light pointed out: "the flashlight in my office, which I got from Home Depot, proudly says on the label that it lasts for 15 hours, as if that's something to be proud of. My light lasts for 5,000 hours. You can't make money on selling batteries for that, but you can make a lot selling batteries every 15 hours."
Later Bent, a former U.S. marine and diplomat who has lived and worked in many countries around the world, added, "You have to understand your customers' needs. I asked a gentlemen in Eritrea what was the best value for my light. I thought he would say security, health or reading. But he said he had more baby goats. Turned out he could help them with troubled births because he could see. He didn't have to go get a kerosene lamp, which took too much time, and caused him to loose more goats. Those people measure their wealth by the number of goats they herd, and they live with the animals." He also added, "People in Africa or India spend 30% of their income on kerosene. One-third of the world still uses kerosene."
Gadi Amit, the award-winning principal designer and founder of NewDealDesign, told us that our culture "over values science and technology, but under values culture, intuition and feelings." Amit added, "I have a problem with the word gadget because it suggests throwaway But just try to pry away someone's iphone, but that wouldn't happen with something like a house You don't have to make the fastest, best PC every time. Just do the right one."
Mark Bent: "The problem with engineers is that they always want to give bells and whistles that consumers don't really need. You don't need a Ferrari when a VW will work. We took a PV panel, nickel-metal hydride batteries. Our lights last for two years w/o batteries needing changing I'm not an engineer, but today I can go on Google and find ways other people have solved problems, and tell my engineers: hey, what about this? So much information is right there now."
Mark Bent: "In Sudan, our lights were distributed to the Dinka people. But the society is male dominated, so as soon as the UN workers left, all the men would take the lights. The UN told us to give each light unique serial numbers, and then workers would come back and check to make sure that everyone was using a light that was assigned to them. But we weren't happy with that solution. So we made the lights pink, and told them pink is a girly color, which they already had some concept of. And it worked, with women and children allowed to keep the lights. One guy was seen touching them with a stick, because he was afraid that some of the girliness would rub off from them."
Former Inhabitat editor Emily Pilloton was on hand from Project H Design, a nonprofit that enables product design initiatives for humanity, habitats, health, and happiness. She talked about her group's work teaching math in Uganda with reclaimed tires and sand, in an innovative, playful, physical style. She said similar projects are upcoming for North Carolina, California's Bay Area, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere. "We try to design a system, rather than a thing, and make that sustainable," she said. The projects use reclaimed materials that are locally available, lasting and easy to maintain and repair, such as used tires in the case of Uganda.
Mark Bent: "We're a 3 p company: people, planet, profits. One retailer told me that they get a lot of profit from paint and batteries, 'so we're not going to carry your light.' I asked if they'd put that in an email, and they said they wouldn't. Soon people will start asking: 'why am I buying things that don't make any sense, that don't have sustainability built in right from the front?' Times of change are always times for opportunity as well.
Emily Pilloton: "I wish when we talk about sustainability we also look at how things affect human life, and not just embodied energy, etc. Look at this light made of plastic, and how it has a tremendous impact. Our hippo roller is criticized since it is made out of plastic, but it has helped many."
Mark Bent: "I try not to do crying African children pics on my website. I wanted to make our light out of bio plastic or recycled plastic, but my engineers said it would break. And they're being shipped to extremely remote locations, so if they break that's a failure A top Ugandan diplomat in Washington, D.C. got there because his parents had saved money for him for kerosene, so he could read. He won a scholarship for grade school, then for high school and college. His friends that he grew up with in his village are herding goats now. Hopefully my light can bring about change like this."
Bent added, "It annoys me when people expect African kids to catch up. My kids go to school all day then study 3 hours or so at night. How can we expect them to do that?"
Emily Pilloton: "Others have talked about the switch to making 'heirloom products.' The reason we have heirlooms is because we embed things with meanings."
Rahul Sharma is vice president of North American operations for the U.K.-based Freeplay Energy, manufacturers of portable consumer electronics that incorporate smart power solutions that either have no access to grid power or some access to grid power. He said, "We shouldn't be having this conference in 15 years, everything should be sustainable."
Ron Gonen is CEO of RecycleBank, an innovative recycling company that provides incentives to consumers and governments. He told the audience that "on a macro level, most of our electronics don't get recycled, or don't get recycled properly."
Michael Newman, vice president of ReCellular, said, "Just building infrastructure for recycling isn't enough, and just having drop offs isn't enough. Or just telling people it will be good for the environment isn't enough. You have to incentivize it."
Ron Gonen: "The way you get change in America is to fine or reward people. We spend a lot of money to promote recycling, for example on New York taxicabs. That's important but it pales in comparison to setting up proper infrastructure of rewards and/or fines."
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