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Green Tech at the Expo

Green Tech was by no means prominent at Macworld 08, but there was still a pretty good amount on display. Environmental sustainability has become a major concern when it comes to technology products. Computers and most other electronic devices consume lots of energy while they’re living and produce lots of waste when they die. Hazardous waste, in many cases. But nearly all of the major manufacturers have begun thinking through the lifecycle of their products and designing them to have as little an impact on the environment as possible – not only because of the demand for Green Tech in the marketplace, but also because it’s just plain old good business.

The biggest Green Tech news out of Macworld 08 is the MacBook Air’s environmental progress report. In his keynote presentation, Steve Jobs not only laid out the MacBook Air’s greenness but also signaled a major commitment to ensuring all of Apple’s future products are as environmentally sustainable as possible.

Here’s a few more companies that are highlighting their own environmental progress:

Continually vying with Apple for the title of Greenest Computer Manufacturer (and often winning) is Hewlett-Packard. The HP booth is chock full of environmentally focused marketing. Several of the company’s printers, for instance, bear placards touting their environmentally friendly features, such as their mercury-free scanner lamps, non-painted surfaces, and reduced packaging.

Adam Smith, who works in the environmental group of HP’s corporate marketing team, was kind enough to talk with me at length about HP’s commitment to sustainable computing as a nearby iMac displayed a short video about the company’s recycling process. Right next to the iMac was a see-through case that had shredded plastic and metal components, in separate compartments of course, to show how the recycling process breaks the materials down. Smith says that HP refurbishes and resells as many old computers as it can, which is good policy because reusing a computer is the best way to recycle it.

Those computers and printers that HP can’t refurbish are shredded into little bits and then sorted so that the parts the company can recycle are turned back into computers. But even the parts HP can’t recycle are not necessarily at the end of their life: they may have a future life as a park bench, roof tiles, or even sneaker soles.

Canon has launched an initiative called “Generation Green” that is focused on making their printers more “Eco-Friendly.” Hardware recycling, refurbishing programs, use of recycled plastics, and printing their manuals on recycled paper are a few of the things the company is doing to make their products more green.

The giant “Generation Green” poster they had in their booth also highlighted the “Eco Standards” Canon is designing their products to comply with (including ENERGY STAR and the RoHS standards), and the “Eco-Conscious” features of its printers, such as 2-sided printing, Ink/Toner saving modes, and LEDs that contain no mercury. Canon’s Selphy line of photo printers were especially compact and economical, and printed good-looking photos.

Xerox makes printers that use solid ink, which cuts way down on the amount of waste from ink and toner cartridges. According to the company, there is 157 pounds of waste from cartridges for every 100,000 pages printed by the typical color laser printer, while their solid ink produces only about 5 pounds of waste. (That’s a lump of solid ink on top of the printer below.)

Even accessory makers are going green. Targus has a whole line of EcoSmart bags made of polyester and plastic that are 100% recyclable. This means nickel-free hardware and no PVC, which Targus uses in the faux leather material many of their bags are made of (including the one I was lugging around the Expo).

Green Edge makes iPod accessories that aren’t made of anything special, but they are packaged in 100% recycled cardboard and the company claims to make donations that offset the carbon emissions of their manufacturing process. Printed with soy ink on Green Edge’s packaging is information to educate the masses about what global warming is doing to the planet. Not sure this makes too much difference, but at least their heart is in the right place.

Review Solar Chargers solar charging devices harvest the sun’s energy to recharge your iPod or mobile phone. All of their solar chargers take about 8 to 10 hours in the sun to fully charge, but are “hybrids” that can be plugged into the wall as well. The new H1000 will cost you about $90 and carries enough of a charge to fully juice up a Razr phone twice.