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The Green Life: Sustainable Electronics? NYC's Greener Gadget Conference Highlights the Difficulties

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February 27, 2009

Sustainable Electronics? NYC's Greener Gadget Conference Highlights the Difficulties

Electronic waste At the Greener Gadgets Conference in New York City today, experts in electronics, environment, and design debated how the ever-changing consumer electronics industry could innovate without adding yet more gadgets to the trash bin.

The conference, now in its second year, happened as both the electronics industry and the green movement suffer from the economic downturn. Half the seats stood empty, and the show floor held more journalists than there were exhibitors for them to interview.
Keynote speaker Saul Griffith, a design pioneer, advocated reducing our carbon footprint through what he called “the Montblanc pen approach to design." That is, make far fewer products, but make them so well that they never need to be replaced.
But does that formula apply to gadgetry that is in perpetual upgrade? Stephen Harper, Intel's director of energy and environment policy, said his company hopes to foster “a culture of repair rather than replacement” – an easy argument to make when your company makes just the microprocessors.

On the same panel, Michael Murphy, the manager of environmental affairs for Dell, pointed out that constant replacement has its pluses: today’s Dell PC is far more energy-efficient than one made six years ago. 
One thing is sure: The goal of a “sustainable” cell phone or music player is still many product cycles away.

--David Ferris

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