Earth Day Gets a Tech Boost

April 22, 2005 — -- In this week's "Cybershake," we celebrate Earth Day with a little help from digital technology. Plus, we take note of a new hospital in Florida that could be the prototype for health care in the digital millennium.

Earth Day 2005: Green With Tech

On April 22, 1970, a revolutionary idea came to life in the United States: a day specifically set aside to create awareness about pollution and other environmental concerns. And 35 years later, Earth Day has undergone a revolution of its own -- a technological one.

Kathleen Rogers, president of the global Earth Day Network, says computers and the Internet have made it much easier -- and cheaper -- to spread environmental news and information to its more than 12,000 organizations in 174 countries.

"We found that if we give them materials over the Internet that they can reprint it in their countries for close to nothing, particularly in developing countries," says Rogers.

For one Earth Day project in Ukraine this year, for example, Rogers estimates that electronic distribution of materials saved EDN and participating European organizations about $40,000 to $50,000.

What's more, Rogers believes the Net with help organizations and environmentally-concerned individuals connect with each other more easily this year. Currently, the EDN site has information on an estimated 8,000 Earth Day events. And Rogers says that could easily balloon to more than 10,000 events since Earth Day activities may extend beyond Friday and into the weekend.

But it isn't just environmental groups such as EDN that are taking advantage of technology to do their part on Earth Day 2005.

Online techies known as "geocachers" have been promoting local clean up efforts at a Web site called

Bryon Roth with Groundspeak, the company that runs the Web site, explains that the game of geocaching is sort of like a high-tech version of hide and seek.

Participants armed with GPS satellite receivers go out to parks or other public places and hide small treasures -- a souvenir coin or other inexpensive trinkets. The GPS coordinates of the stashed caches are then posted on the Web, so other geocachers can try to find them and swap out or add their own bits of trinkets.

"It's really a fun, family friendly activity," says Roth. "Friends are telling friends and bringing their family members and people on dates are going out and geocaching."

But in the spirit of Earth Day, geocachers are urged to bring along trash bags and take part in "Cache In, Trash Out" events this month. As players scour public parks and lands in search of treasure, they can pick up any garbage they find and "leave the place better than they found it," says Roth.

Still, for all the help that computers and technology can provide 21st century environmentalists, not all is rosy. Activists such as Rogers are still concerned that too many electronic devices with toxic materials such as nickel and cadmium in their batteries are still ending up in landfills.

"There are many, many opportunities -- not [yet] in every city -- to recycle computers," says Rogers. But, "There's a big movement to recycle cell phones."

Mobile phone makers are quickly adding more capabilities into newer cell phones that cost a lot less than previous low-tech versions. And that, says Rogers, is causing a glut of older phones that consumers are ultimately ditching as garbage. Her goal: To work with the cell phone industry to make it profitable to recycle the older technology, rather than just dump it.

-- Andrea Smith, ABC News

Electronic ER

There is something missing throughout a brand new hospital in the rapidly growing Fort Lauderdale suburb of Miramar, Fla.

It's paper.

This new, state-of-the-art, 128-bed hospital is among a new, national trend to build ultra-modern health-care facilities that use technology to reduce the risk of medical errors, while keeping costs down.

Walking into Memorial Hospital Miramar, near the edge of the Florida Everglades, is like walking into Circuit City. There are huge plasma screens everywhere. Digital, touch-screen monitors line the walls. Doctors and nurses use both to instantly review and update patient records. All medicine is bar-coded, so employees don't accidentally give drugs to patients meant for someone else.

Every room is private and decorated to look more like a hotel residence than a hospital. Featured in each room: state-of-the-art, flat-screen televisions; digital telephones; and even Wi-Fi throughout the entire complex. Patients and their visitors are welcome to bring laptops so they can work or surf the Web while waiting for tests and procedures. Patients are also invited to explore the hospital.

Each hospital gown has a built-in sensor, so patients can be tracked on a huge, real-time map of the facility.

"If the physician comes on the floor," explains administrator Ken Hetledge, "and the patient isn't in the room, we can see immediately see that the patient is down in the cafeteria having something to eat. It's like Lo-Jack for patients."

It's also a security measure. Sensors are temporarily placed in the belly buttons of newborns, so if someone attempts to remove a baby, the child can be tracked throughout the hospital, which will be instantly locked down.

The hospital is modern in other ways, too. A decontamination chamber was created, in part, by Israeli terrorism experts. And the building is fully expandable. Each hallway was built with floor-to-ceiling windows at each end, so additional wings can be added without knocking down walls.

Memorial Hospital Miramar cost roughly $150 million to build. Owner Memorial Healthcare Systems expects the hospital to pay for itself within the first year.

-- Andrew Colton, ABC News

Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.