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CES: Green is the new black

January 11, 2009 |  9:38 am
Fuji EnviroMAX Battery

LAS VEGAS -- Nearly two-thirds of consumers surveyed by the Consumer Electronics Assn. said they were interested in purchasing environmentally friendly technology. But an equal number of people, about 65%, also felt companies probably overstated their green credentials, and 60% said they wanted more details.

Bottom line: When it comes to green products, people are interested but skeptical.

Granted, the survey was taken last year, just before the stock market cratered. Buyers these days may not be as swayed by the green attributes of a product as they are by price. But at CES, green was everywhere. It was part of the stock press conference script to start off with comments on the dismal economy, plow on to product announcements and end with a message about environmental initiatives.

Some of the messages backfired. Fuji's EnviroMAX battery (pictured above) got slapped on the wrist by Treehugger for not being recyclable.

Some companies found a natural way to integrate green messages with economic ones: Introduce products that consume less energy. Samsung, which practices what it preaches by ...

... automatically turning off the lights in its Korean offices during the lunch hour, introduced at CES a line of LED televisions that consume 40% less power than LCD TVs. Panasonic showed a Blu-ray player that uses 50% less power than its previous model. And Hewlett-Packard is introducing printers that switch on only when a print job is sent. The average printer is actively printing for just 15 minutes a day but is usually not turned off, gobbling up energy. HP's next-generation printers will turn themselves off after sitting idle for a few minutes.

"Some of the green claims are marketing-speak, but some of it has real, tangible benefits," said Paul Ryder, who runs the consumer electronics store at Amazon.com.

The CEA survey found that 53% of consumers who were interested in green factors were also willing to pay more for it -- about 7.5% more on average. Although it's possible that that's no longer the case, given the economy, companies such as Samsung are actively promoting the message in hopes that consumers will think of green in the same way they think of sleek design. In other words, a psychic benefit is worth the extra cash. Feel guilty about polluting the planet? Buy the Motorola Renew phone, made from recycled plastic bottles! To quiet the conscience further, Motorola took the extra step of buying carbon credits to make the device carbon neutral.

With consumers being more budget conscious, however, the better pitch for now may be the fringe benefits. Samsung's LED TV, for example, sucks up less power, but the LED lighting creates a brighter screen than LCD TVs for a better contrast ratio that makes images appear more vivid. Said John Godfrey, Samsung's vice president of government affairs, "We call it the TV that lets you have your cake and eat it too."

-- Alex Pham

Photo credit: Consumer Electronics Assn.

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