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1/5/2011
02:12 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Business: CES Goes Over The Top With 'Greenest' Claims

Are there no limits to the industry's sanctimonious eco-friendly posturing?

The Consumer Electronics Show, which opens today at the Las Vegas Convention Center, is touting itself as the world's "greenest" trade show, raising the bar on the industry's imposing green hyperbole and obfuscation. Here's the show's rationale for why it's so environmentally friendly:

  • CES is showcasing the latest eco-friendly products and technologies, including green building materials, alternative energy technologies, smart grid technologies, solar and renewable products, sustainable packaging, wireless convergence technologies, and a slew of products in its 3,500-square-foot Electric Vehicle TechZone. The conference organizers fail to mention, however, the megatons of waste that will be generated by the thousands of other products on exhibit in its cavernous halls, as consumers heave their one- and two-year-old smartphones, tablets, TVs, and music players for the latest and greatest versions.
  • The show notes that 68% of the 147 tons of solid waste generated by attendees last year was recycled. It points to its recycling bins, recyclable carpeting, recyclable wall and counter panels, and recyclable paper towels and toilet paper (really?). Most of its conference brochures and exhibitor manuals are now virtual. Fair enough -- the show appears to be making an earnest effort here.
  • CES says it "diverted all light bulbs used by the show from landfills, as well as batteries and other electronics products." Diverted to where exactly, outer space? Or ultimately to dumps in China and elsewhere, as this 2008 60 Minutes piece, "The Electronic Wasteland," chronicled?
  • The show's caterer, Aramark, offers bulk condiments instead of individual packages, offers biodegradable food containers and utensils, uses energy-efficient dishwashers, and participates in recycling efforts of its own.
  • The Las Vegas Convention Center and adjunct show venues at the Venetian/Palazzo use lots of eco-friendly materials and systems and do plenty of recycling and conservation. So does general service contractor Global Experience Specialists, mostly in the booth packages it offers exhibitors.
  • But here's the topper: The organizers maintain that by having an average of 12 meetings at CES, attendees collectively avoid more than 960 million miles in business trips that they otherwise would have to take. The estimated total net savings in travel miles: 549 million. Shoot, why not round it up to 1 billion? The rationale has a certain Al Gore tinge to it: Don't pay attention to the carbon footprint I generate; just think of all the nebulous carbon avoidance my important work makes possible.
Not to be outdone by the CES organizers, a representative of On24, whose online platform underpins many virtual events (including InformationWeek's), called my colleague John Foley to protest CES's "greenest" claims. On24 runs the greenest trade shows, he insisted, as they don't require attendees to hop on planes and into cabs and don't require organizers to set up physical exhibition space in energy-hungry hotels and convention centers. All that's required for virtual trade shows is the energy to power computers, Web sites, and Internet connections. Golly Moses, maybe CES should run its entire show on the Internet!

Here's a modest proposal: In the name of environmental friendliness, why don't we go a step further and put a stop to all trade shows, live or virtual (except for InformationWeek's, of course)? For that matter, why don't we go further and apply the brakes to international and interstate commerce, returning the environment to a pre-Industrial Revolution utopia, when the earth's atmosphere was relatively unencumbered by carbon dioxide (except for that pesky amount which supported life)?

Here's an even more radical proposal: We all actually hold on to our electronic gadgets and devices past the next innovation.

Don't get me wrong: I actually appreciate some of the steps that CES is taking to clean up its processes, and I wish the organizers well on building their hugely successful and important enterprise. But at some point the sanctimonious green posturing just becomes too much.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief, InformationWeek
rpreston@techweb.com

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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