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The Latest in Green Gadgets

The Greener Gadgets 2010 Conference, produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, concluded Thursday in New York City, highlighting the latest green designs and innovations in consumer technology. Featuring green innovators, thought-leaders and environmental stewards, key themes at the Greener Gadgets Conference included sustainable product design, green technology in the home and environmental issues affecting the industry.

Yves Behar, founder of the integrated design agency fuse project, kicked off Greener Gadgets with a challenge to designers to "put the sexy back into green." Behar said this is the most exciting challenge that designers have had in the last 20-30 years and will lead to innovative products. Behar demonstrated design possibilities with examples of his own work for clients such as One Laptop Per Child, Jawbone, Mission Motors and Swarovski.

Sarah Rich, formerly of Dwell magazine, moderated the panel, “Green Living Begins at Home,” which focused on the challenges and opportunities for creating a sustainable lifestyle within the home. The panelists all agreed that consumers have to be responsible for their energy consumption and must be equipped with the right information. Architect Ellen Honigstock stated, "You can't change what you don't know." Jay McLellan, president and CEO of Home Automation Inc. addressed the benefits of using home automation systems as using "something that knows what you are doing and provides info to help you react to it." He also addressed the challenges that manufacturers face in making products more energy efficient while balancing the need to create innovative products that people want to purchase and use. Wind power and powerline technologies were discussed as viable options. Sarah Krasley of Autodesk challenged designers to make the business case for sustainability by highlighting the long-term benefits.

On Thursday morning, Jaymi Heimbuch of TreeHugger.com interviewed Jeff Omelchuck, founder of the Green Electronics Council and EPEAT, a green electronics certification program required in more than $60 billion of government and enterprise purchasing contracts worldwide. The program will be re-launched as a consumer facing brand and will appear on products in retail stores later this year. Omelchuck spoke of the power of EPEAT to change the electronics design process by allowing consumers to speak to manufacturers with one voice. "What can we do to increase the greenness of consumer electronics products? Buy them," said Omelchuck. "Manufacturers are good at listening to the market."

In the afternoon session, “Gadget Talk,’ Tom Hadfield, COO of LaboGroup, demonstrated the award-winning Andrea air filter purifier, which uses household plants to rid household or office air of toxic substances, including formaldehyde. Based on an aesthetic approach and designed by French designer, Mathieu Lehanneur, and Harvard professor, David Edward, Andrea dramatically accelerates the rate at which the plant is cleaning the air and showcases the beneficial role of plants in the environment.

The second compelling ‘Gadget Talk,” was given by Leo Bonnani, founder of Sourcemap. Bonnani described Sourcemap.org as a collective online tool for life cycle assessment and supply chain transparency to help consumers know where the elements within their devices come from and what they are made of. Sourcemap, an open source project of the MIT Media Lab, calculates the carbon footprint of laptops and other CE devices and allows users to build lifecycle maps of different products.

In the Sustainable Show-off, three innovative designers were given the opportunity to demonstrate their products. Mei Shibata, chief business officer of ThinkEco Inc., showed off the modlet, a smart outlet that transforms a typical home outlet and helps users manage their energy consumption and eliminate wasted power. Jennifer Indovina, CEO of Tenrehte Technologies, showed off the PICOwatt, a smart plug that gives users remote access to their home appliances and electronics from any browser, anywhere in the world. Eben Bayer, CEO of Ecovative Design, unveiled his company's 100 percent compostable and biodegradable packaging solution, called EcoCradle, which is manufactured using seed husks and mushroom roots.

For the afternoon “Green Spotlight” session, Joe Hutsko, author of Greener Gadgets for Dummies, interviewed Maria Tate, senior industrial designer, Hewlett-Packard and Peter Fannon, vice president, corporate and government affairs, Panasonic, about their company's sustainability strategies. Tate discussed HP's innovative closed loop eCartridge recycling process and the company's holistic approach to product design, operational management, recycling and reuse. Fannon gave an update on Panasonic's success in reducing its C02 emissions one year ahead of schedule and how the company incentivized all employees to develop and meet environment targets. Fannon pointed out that television manufacturers are improving their energy efficiency significantly and that the average large screen now uses less than 100 watts. He noted the green aspects of video streaming capability on TVs and predicted that we will soon see a future that allows consumers to control their home energy use through their TV's remote control.

In the afternoon keynote session, Robert Fabricant, creative director of frog design, discussed the evolution of design using augmented mindfulness, which changes the way people make decisions based on understanding the impact of those decisions. Technology that augments mindfulness, he said, can help us address problems we are not naturally good at solving.

The third annual Greener Gadgets Design Competition concluded the day with the audience vote crowning the Living Goods Program, a mobile app created by John Healy that provides consumers with pertinent food information from local growers, as the winning product. Empower from founder Ryan Klinger, a rocking chair for public places that enables people to charge their devices by the motion created, won second prize. Third prize went to the Illumi-Charger by GreenWaves.org. This product is a USB device charger that is powered by interior light. The fourth finalist, as selected by judges Sarah Rich, Julian Lwin and Andrew Wagner, was the Corky by Adele Peters, which is a mouse made from recycled cork that generates its own power due to usage and does not require batteries.

For more information on Greener Gadgets 2010, visit GreenerGadgets.com.

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