I attended the Greener Gadgets Conference in New York City today, and pricked up my ears when the experts in electronics and design debated an urgent question: How can the ever-changing consumer electronics industry innovate without adding yet more gadgets to the trash bin?
The conference, now in its second year, met as both the electronics industry and the green movement suffer from the economic downturn. Half the seats stood empty in the conference room, and the show floor held more journalists than there were exhibitors to 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”: 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, the director of energy and environment policy for Intel, 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 worldwide environmental affairs for computer-maker 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” cellphone or music player is still many product cycles away.