How "green" are your gadgets?
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Green is in like never before at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, with 3,000 square feet of dedicated floor space and companies touting the energy-saving, earth-friendly attributes of their gadgets.
On display are "eco-buttons" that reduce your computer's power consumption, e-lanterns that produce an hour's worth of light if you crank them for a minute, luminous TV screens that use far less energy than standard TVs and even mercury-free batteries that are 94 percent recyclable.
But in the absence of a uniform global standard that certifies a product as "green," are environment-conscious consumers buying more green hype than green engineering?
Not necessarily, said Jeff Omelchuck, director of the Green Electronics Council, which provides an Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) certification for computers. The EPEAT provides manufacturers with a set of criteria against which to measure their products' environmental impact.
"Electronics are in fact much more environmentally friendly today than even five years ago," Omelchuck, an engineer, told Reuters.
But that does not mean gadgets are "sustainable" -- leaving no adverse impact on the environment as they make their way from the factory to a recycling unit -- which would make them truly green, Omelchuck added.
"Companies are making products greener because the market expects them to," he added.
This year, manufacturers are also touting the energy efficiency of their products to draw consumers who are spending fewer dollars on discretionary products due to the recession.
While that is a start, environmental activists and analysts say any energy savings from a so-called green device will be offset if it uses highly toxic batteries or cannot be recycled.
Gadgets will be truly green when companies employ more eco-friendly manufacturing processes, packaging, design and recycling programs as part of a holistic approach to sustainability, they added.
"Consumers shouldn't have to choose between products that are incredibly green in one area, but grey in another," said Casey Harrell, a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace International.
On Friday, the pro-environment group held a news conference at CES to share highlights from a December green electronics survey.
Harrell said at the conference the electronics industry has taken "encouraging strides" toward improving green features on some gadgets in the past year. But the absence of an international standard makes it tough for consumers to decide which gadgets are greenest.
Greenpeace's assessment of about 50 electronics products found Lenovo Group Ltd's L2440x wide computer monitor, Sharp Corp's LC-52GX5 television, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd 's F268 mobile phone, Nokia's 6210 smartphone and Toshiba Machine Co Ltd's Portege R600 laptop were the greenest in their categories.
Earlier this week, Samsung Electronics introduced a flat- screen TV that uses 40 percent less energy because it uses light-emitting diode technology rather than the traditional cathode lamps.
"The advantage of LED TVs is that they are environmentally friendly, can save a lot of power, use no mercury or lead and have a high picture quality," said Jongwoo Park, Samsung's president of digital media.
LG Electronics Inc devoted part of its CES display to showcasing green products, including a Bluetooth solar car kit and recyclable packaging materials. Toshiba showcased an ion battery designed for bicycle maker Schwinn's electronic bike, which gives up to 30 miles on a single charge.
Parker Brugge, vice president of environmental affairs at the Consumer Electronics Association, said companies have an inherent incentive to go green because it produces better gadgets. Making a television more energy efficient also makes it last longer and heat up less, he said.
What is more, the show host, has itself gotten greener by reducing brochures and paper usage, and offering booths made of recyclable parts.
"Everyone has to do their part," he added.
(Editing by Tiffany Wu and Andre Grenon)
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