CES Goes Green

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has taken major steps to ensure that the 2008 edition of its International Consumer Electronics Show, to take place in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 7–10, will provide a model for sustainable and energy-efficient practices. According to CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro, the world's largest international trade show for consumer technologies is "the first tradeshow of our size to reduce our carbon footprint. We will do so by reducing energy consumption, increasing our recycling efforts, improving efficiency where possible, and making strides toward offsetting our unavoidable emissions. . . . [We intend to give] this industry an opportunity to be a positive force for change and integral to environmental solutions that will ensure future generations inherit a healthy planet."

Through a partnership with www.Carbonfund.org, the CEA will offset the 20,000 tons of carbon associated with CES by investing in a combination of certified renewable energy, reforestation, and energy-efficient projects. In addition to offsetting carbon emissions of all CES venues, freight, shuttle buses, and hotel rooms, CES will provide attendees with opportunities to offset the carbon produced by their airline travel by logging on to www.CESweb.org or using kiosks on the show floor.

"Offsetting the carbon footprint is a first for us," Parker Brugge, Senior Director and Environmental Counsel for CES, told Stereophile. "Our show attracts 140,000 attendees. By conducting a lot of their business in [Las Vegas]—each visitor attends an average of 12 meetings while at CES, which translates into 1.7 million meetings total—they avoid 700 million miles of additional airline travel. That makes it a very environmentally friendly show to begin with. We felt we wanted to further offset our carbon footprint by doing new things this year."

CES has worked with vendors to ensure that 75% of this year's food containers and utensils will be fully biodegradable. All light bulbs, batteries, and electronics used by the show will be recycled, not sent to landfills. From the recycled carpet throughout the Central Hall to post-consumer recycled paper and soy-based inks to nonhazardous cleaning solvents and soaps, CES is going green in a major way.

"When we talked with our vendors," said Brugge, "they were very supportive. No one countered with 'It's going to cost us more' arguments. It is costing us money, but in the long term, everyone decided that it was simply the right thing to do. The biggest cost is offsetting our carbon footprint. But it has the full support of everyone at CEA, including our member companies."

CES will also erect a TechZone dedicated to sustainable technologies, and provide a "Greening CES" TV segment for broadcast in attendee hotel rooms. Expect many more recycling opportunities for aluminum, plastic, paper, and glass than at CESes past.

Many CEA members, impelled by the RoHS Directive of the European Union, have already taken steps to greatly reduce, if not eliminate entirely, six hazardous chemicals from their products: lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants. Because China, Korea, and other countries are expected to adopt slightly different RoHS directives, the CEA is currently conducting a study to provide information about the costs and benefits of materials restrictions, with the hope of avoiding an international patchwork of different materials-restriction requirements.

"We do realize that with everything we do, there is a carbon footprint," said Brugge. "For the part we can't reduce, we are committed to offset. We certainly understand that more can be done, and will be looking for ways to further reduce and offset our footprint in the future."

Along these lines, the CEA has established www.MyGreenElectronics.org, a website that advocates a national recycling program for electronics. (Only nine states currently have electronics recycling programs.) Until a national program is instituted, consumers can use the website to find electronics recyclers in their area.

The CEA has also created a green-products database featuring energy-efficient, environmentally friendly products that use fewer chemicals of concern. Within a few months, www.MyGreenElectronics.org will include purchase location information. The website also features an energy calculator to enable you to calculate how much energy your electronics use. Brugge gave me one example of the information available through the site: Unless unplugged entirely, cell-phone and other types of chargers continue to use energy even when not connected to the battery-powered devices they're intended to charge.

The CEA's initiatives come not a moment too soon. The weekend before Thanksgiving, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that unless the world ends its growth in carbon emissions within seven years and becomes mostly free of carbon-emitting technologies in about four decades, global warming will kill as many as a quarter of the planet's species. That grim scenario, an unavoidable result of the 3.6°F (2°C) minimum rise in the planet's temperature expected from current carbon-emission levels, can be avoided only by reducing carbon dioxide and other atmosphere-polluting gases by 50–85% by 2050.

"We may have already overshot that target," said David Karoly, a member of the core team that wrote the report. Current emissions are nearing the limit required to limit the warming to 2°C by 2015." Even at that threshold, the report warns, seas will continue to swell for centuries from thermal expansion and melted ice, the oceans will turn more acidic, coral reefs will die, floods and storms will increase, and millions of people will be short of potable water.

If the world misses the 2015 target and does not stabilize carbon-dioxide emissions until 2030, the planet's average temperature could increase by as much as 6.3°F above 2000 levels. That alone will translate into widespread species extinction, a slowing of global ocean currents, decreased food production, the loss of 30% of global wetlands, and potentially catastrophic floods and heat waves.