Trick Question: What Is Green?

green.jpg Reflecting back on some of the issues addressed at the Greener Gadgets conference today, I’m surprised to see executives that actually care about making their products green, or at least green enough to make journalists like me believe them. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, and we saw some innovative stuff from some brilliant people. But when I walked the show floor, notepad and pen in hand, I asked many vendors what should have been a simple question. Yet I stumped almost everyone. Some blushed, clearly not wanting to be named. The question: “What is Green?” A rep from Voltaic told me, “No product is ever green. It’s about material substitution, carbon offsets, and designing products that can be recycled.” But what does that mean? No product can die and turn to dust like living beings can? I still didn’t have my answer to what “green” is. Another rep from HYmini told me that a green product is one that “takes preserving the environment into account,” and that the best green gadgets have the lowest carbon footprints. At that same moment, however, the spokesperson told me she wasn’t even sure what a carbon footprint was. I let it slide when she gave me one of the only worthwhile answers of the day, “Technology with a conscience” defines green. OK, I can deal with that. “It’s about small decisions made daily, like plastic recycling.” Another vendor told me that green is a “mindset, a resolution, and where you put yourself in it.” And that green is a “sensibility.” And finally, a rep for Climate Savers, a joint venture between Google and Intel, said that green is about “energy efficiency.” Bingo, ok another answer I can deal with. But then she blushed, and told me that she was just a marketing person and that the spokesperson that could better answer my question had stepped away, as if her answer wasn’t good enough. Now here’s the saddest part of the day. This is the “Green Gadget Conference,” where companies that call themselves “green” were meeting to inform the public and discuss what each was doing to help the environment. Not one person looked me in the eye and gave me a definitive answer to my question. Instead, I was met with the same answers I got in my freshmen Earth and Environmental Class in high school, or answers about how companies were saving “money.” But isn’t that a different kind of “green?”

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