In Search of a Greener Gadget

Global giants and creative startups unleash eco-friendly technology.

Jan. 12, 2009— -- As concerns about the environment mount, technology companies large and small are responding to the call for greener electronics.

At this year's annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, more exhibitors than ever before displayed environmentally-friendly products.

Although hard numbers are not available, CES organizer Tim Herbert, senior director of research for the Consumer Electronics Association, estimated that the number of green products and services had increased tenfold over last year.

He pointed to the new Motorala Moto W233 Renew phone, made from recycled plastic bottles, and a new routing service, EcoRoute, from GPS company Garmin, that plots directions for the most fuel-efficient course, as two of many devices targeting eco-minded consumers.

Although some confusion exists about what "green" actually means, Herbert's research indicates that most consumers believe companies should do more to protect the environment. walked the floor at CES to see what's new in green technology. Here's a sampling of what we found:

NPower Peg

Launched at CES by Cleveland-based Tremont Electric LLC, nPower PEG (or personal energy generator) is a novel product that uses human energy to power mobile devices, such as cell phones and mp3 players.

"It harvests your human kinetic energy -- your up and down walking motion," inventor Aaron LeMieux said. "With that we're able to charge your mobile electronic devices."

LeMieux, an engineer, came up with the idea when he hiked the 1,500-mile Appalachian Trail about a decade ago.

"I wanted a device that I could take and just throw in my backpack and be able to walk along," he said.

The device -- a closed, aluminum tube about 1-foot-long and an inch in diameter -- can generate power in a way that replicates a wall outlet. If it takes 15 minutes to charge your cell phone to a certain point, LeMieux said it would take 15 minutes of walking to create the same amount of power.

When you're walking, hiking or biking, the stick can generate energy. But it also works on the subway or bus. In an emergency, you could even shake it.

The nPower peg isn't on the market yet, but LeMieux expects to price it at $149 when it becomes available.

Green Plug Universal Power Adapter

San Ramon, Calif.-based Green Plug recently announced the Innergie mCube 90G, a universal power adapter that eliminates the need for multiple chargers.

According to the company, each year consumer electronics companies churn out about 2.5 billion incompatible power supplies and dump another 700 million discarded products in landfills. Green Plug's one-size-fits-all approach attempts to reduce waste.

Energy-Efficient Televisions

It wasn't just the smaller companies that unveiled eco-friendly products and strategies. Global giants such as Panasonic, LG and Toshiba also went to great lengths to communicate their efforts to green their products and processes from cradle to grave.

Among the biggest power-suckers in any home, televisions are getting energy-efficient makeovers.

Panasonic announced a new plasma television that triples the luminance efficiency while reducing the power consumption to one-third of the 2007 models. The company also said it reduced power consumption of its X1 series televisions to 50 percent of 2007 models.

Sony's new KDL-VE5 series motion-sensing televisions also court the environmentally-conscious by automatically shutting off when they can't detect the presence of a viewer.

Eco-friendly Laptops

Toshiba's Portégé R600 was another of the green devices on display. Recognized by Greenpeace and the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool, an independent system that compares eco-friendly features of consumer electronics, the energy-efficient R600 eliminates toxic chemicals such as lead and mercury.

The company Asus also displayed and eco-friendly laptop encased in light, durable and renewable bamboo. The laptop was released last year but just recently went into production.

Not Just Products, but the Process

These companies emphasize that they're not just making their products more environmentally-sensitive. They're also changing their manufacturing and distribution procedures.

"Our engineers actually have a very thick design guide that they use from the very beginning when they start to design a product," Craig Hershberg, director of environmental affairs for Toshiba America, told "How can we minimize environmental impact? How can we increase the value for our customers? So we take that mind-set and bake that in the very early stages."

Panasonic is another one of the companies leading the way to more ecologically-friendly electronics.

"[We] are focused on living in harmony with the environment. We have been for many, many years," said Paul Liao, chief technology officer at Panasonic Corporation of North America. "We try to make the devices in the most effective way, the most efficient way."

Along with Toshiba and Sharp, Panasonic also recently expanded an electronics recycling program that spans the entire country. By the end of this month, Liao said 280 sites will exist in every state in the country and, by 2011, 800 sites will exist.