Think of the Consumer Electronics Show, the annual high-tech bacchanal in Las Vegas, and what may come to mind are the blinking lights, the hordes of attendees and exhibitors who have traveled millions of miles, a forest's worth of brochures and promotional flyers--waste and more waste. In the past, there wasn't much green awareness at the world's largest gadget fest. Not anymore. This year, expect to see plenty of HDTVs equipped with efficient light-emitting diodes as their primary light source, more products powered by solar panels and even hand cranks. But even more impressive is that CES 2008 will be carbon neutral, making it the largest such event in the world.
The Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes CES, has teamed up with the nonprofit Carbonfund.org to estimate how much carbon is emitted at a tradeshow that typically draws 140,000 attendees from around the world. Then the association ponied up more than $110,000 to purchase carbon offsets that will invest in renewable energy, reforestation and energy efficiency endeavors.
NEWSWEEK's Brian Braiker caught up with Eric Carlson, Carbonfund.org's executive director, about turning the gadget fest green. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: When you think of CES you certainly don't picture a particularly Earth friendly event.
Eric Carlson: What CES is doing is they've asked us to inventory the carbon emissions from the show--emissions from the guest rooms, freight, a number of the hotels, the site of the exhibits and the shuttle buses.
And what number did you come up with?
Twenty thousand metric tons of CO2. Most of that is the hotel space: 63 percent is from hotels, 24 percent from freight, 12 percent from the convention center and then the [show space at the] Sands, the Hilton and the Venetian hotels.
So this doesn't include all the air travel of attendees and exhibitors?
CES has provided a link on their Web site and they're encouraging people to offset their travel coming to and from the event. Once you're in Vegas it's basically carbon neutral. [CES organizers are] offsetting their employee travel and all that as well.
How is all this carbon being offset?
One third is through renewable energy, which means things like wind energy and methane. Another third is through reforestation and the other third is through energy efficiency, which is general industrial energy improvements. CES is offsetting 6,500 tons per type.
Did they pay you to consult with them?
We're a nonprofit organization. They [just] pay for the offsets.
Have you done a trade show this big before?
This is by a lot of estimations the biggest trade show on earth. For us it's great to be a part of it.
What specifically happens at a hotel that you can offset?
Hotels are typically front end and back end. What the guests sees is front-end: the room, hallway lighting, the minibar. Then there's the cleaning of the towels, production of food and all the things that happen behind the scenes. You end up with an average figure and you come up with a per-night carbon footprint so that way you don't have to go to every specific hotel and calculate.
And what emissions are there on the show floor itself?
That's the energy used by the convention center and the hotels that are hosting the exhibits. It's electricity and it's gas.
The hotel would be operating whether or not this convention would be happening. Which suggests that any average traveler leaves a trail of emissions behind him.
I think every responsible consumer should offset as much of their personal life as they can. When you travel you have an impact on climate change. You can do something about it. I think it's simply responsible to offset the carbon emissions from your air travel, your hotel. By offsetting your travel you drive investment in clean energy.
I'm flying to Vegas on Sunday. My flight has apparently not been offset. What can I do?
Go to our Web site and on it simply put in where you're flying from [New York] and to [Las Vegas] and they'll tell you the carbon footprint of that flight. Roundtrip that's 2.19 tons of CO2 and that's about 4,800 pounds of CO2. To offset that is just over $12.
What an offset really represents is the additional funds needed to make a project cost-effective. The good news is that if we want to fight climate change, there are solutions out there that don't cost too much.