My Biggest Disappointment at CES, Yet Again, Came in 500ml Packages

And now ladies and gentlemen, something completely different from the self-congratulatory, back-slapping, post-CES euphoria flooding the airwaves. Oh yes, there was amazing technology, amazing innovation and a sense of hubris in light of the economy and hard times all around.  Less bling, more practical solutions.  I think I even got a door held open for me a time or two by someone I didn’t have to tip, hehe.

 

The Intel booth was packed with enthusiastic techies and I met with over fifty of the best and brightest tech press in the world.  Their knowledge and class always blows me away. We chatted Core i7, 45nm innovation, Atom, and Classmate PC.  And as everybody at CES talked, we drank bottled water.  Lots of it.

 

Bottled water which, when emptied, couldn’t find a recycling bin for a hundred miles. Literally. Turns out the Las Vegas Convention Center “isn’t set up for recycling”, so off go hundreds of thousands of empty bottles to a landfill somewhere.

 

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Or worse — as a recent issue of the Economist writes about in depth – the ocean. Guess how much plastic is floating in the Pacific Ocean in huge masses? A few football fields worth?  Try two swirling blobs totaling TWICE the size of the United States.  Serious! I am always astonished at the monumental waste at CES. Not just empty water bottles but mountains of brochures, glitzy giveaways, disposable carpets and enough electricity use to power many small countries.

 

And yet almost all the exhibitors are companies “embracing sustainability,” “going green.” Exhibitors want to be seen as embracing the environment, so why not lean on the local convention authorities to embrace it too?  A two-watt power saving in your glitzy gadget or fifteen more minutes of battery life is great, but I’d love to see technological innovation reach other areas in desperate need of greening.

 

Not all is doom and gloom of course.  A highlight for me was meeting Anisha Ladha, Intel’s e-waste Program Manager.  Kudos to Intel for giving her primo CES booth space to talk about how we reclaim more than 3 billion gallons of wastewater each year in our factories. 

 

Anisha is passionate, with an environmental engineering background and tons of experience at all levels.  And months in advance of last year’s show, she spent ergs trying to figure out who in show management could help make CES more environmentally friendly. She hit dead ends everywhere, with the fundamental issue being that “LVCC doesn’t recycle.”  When she investigated offering reusable Intel branded beverage mugs she met with an even bigger quagmire of costs, rules, status quo and LVCC labor laws.

Imagine a “gentle nudge” program where attendees reused a water bottle and had it scanned at each meeting to collect a goodie at the end of the show? Maybe a collection of iTunes MP3s with “green” in the title (that’s only slightly tongue-in-cheek), or a raffle for a more power efficient, sleek and light Centrino 2 notebook?

   

Let’s not continue letting this convention be a study in “you can lead a CES gadgeteer to bottled water, but you can’t make him (or her) recycle.” Anisha, myself and several others I talked to last week are going to do our part to help make sure our respective companies walk the walk as well as talk the talk on green.  Companies may make broad declarations on sustainability, but it is the employees themselves that must act to make words reality. Let’s hope we have enough voices chime in to really unleash the “green”!

 

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3 Responses to My Biggest Disappointment at CES, Yet Again, Came in 500ml Packages

  1. TruePath says:

    This post is, ironically, an excellent example of people (and organizations) wanting to be seen as embracing the environment as opposed to actually putting resources to work in an efficient manner to address critical environmental problems like global warming. Indeed, it’s my opinion that the widespread attitude expressed in posts like this one is one of the top barriers to true enviornmental progress.
    I mean what exactly caused you to launch this crusade for water bottle recycling? Did you engage in even a crude mental estimation of the costs and benefits of recycling? Did you pick this issue because it jumped out at you as offering large benefits at a low cost?
    I’m pretty positive you did not. Our reaction to discarded plastic bottles is largely an emotional one. It feels wasteful to us and creates dissonance with our mental picture of ourselves as being thrifty, avoiding waste and enviornmentally virtuous. However, from an objective point of view landfill space simply isn’t a scare commodity. Sure, more waste might require us to dig slightly deaper pits for our landfills but a quick google search and a back of the envelope calculation reveal that a square pit a mere half-mile a side could hold all the waste generate in the US in a year.
    Don’t get me wrong, many landfills have negative consequences on the surrounding area and recycling is usually better than throwing material into landfills. However, recycling programs require separate trucks, pickups, plants and all sorts of other fossil fuel consuming infrastructure and well run landfills can have minimal impact on their environment. The point is that the only sense in which we are running out of space to put our garbage is economic: we don’t want to pay more to take out the trash so we can dig deeper pits.
    I’m not saying it’s bad to recycle plastic bottles and it’s certainly better not to use them at all (but then again it’s better to live without most modern conveniences) but it’s simply not a significant enviornmental issue and all the time and effort you put into insignificant enviornmental programs or convince others to is time and effort you can’t put into more significant ones. Worse, people only have a certain amount they will sacrifice to be green and the trouble they take not to chuck plastic bottles or to help others recycle them counts against their willingness to support a carbon tax, buy a hybrid or donate money to green causes.
    Also I think this kind of crusade is harmful as it validates the flawed idea that enviornmentalism is some kind of moral virtue like being thrifty or honest. The world would be a much better place if we replaced everyone who always insisted on recycling or avoided paper plates with people who voted for carbon taxes and other systemic fixes. But of course voting or paying a tax doesn’t give you the same social credit that visibly recycling or otherwise visibly going to trouble to be green does.

    I don’t want to sound too critical. This is the natural human reaction to these kinds of situations, but on reflection I think it turns out to be very harmful here.

  2. TruePath, I wouldn’t call this a ‘crusade’ at all but rather employees at a grass roots level wanting to make an effort to do something helpful. Absolutely, there are pros and cons to any environmental initiative, but that shouldn’t stop people from wanting to act. This is what’s good about blogs – a candid exchange of opinions and ideas. Although we may have differences in which environmental initiatives or priorities to focus on, the fact that we are discussing and debating the topic is a step forward in itself.