At the big CES tech show in Las Vegas, it was rare for entrepreneurs to hold up a factory and showcase it as the latest breakthrough in consumer technology.
But for NeoPlants co-founder Patrick Torbey, the annual get-together after New Years shouldn’t be thought of as “just about machine technology and electronics.”
“It’s also about natural technologies that we can leverage with these really cool engineering techniques,” Toby told AFP.
Paris-based startup NeoPlants showed off a bioengineered plant that, according to its website, can purify indoor air of toxic pollutants “through the action of 30 common houseplants.”
Since the Sin City Expo began 50 years ago, the amount of technology aimed at helping the environment at CES has increased steadily.
But observers have often doubted the seriousness of the consumer tech industry’s commitment to protecting the environment, as all the real excitement has focused on smart TVs and robots rather than more complex and less profitable planet-saving projects.
“It’s just going to be part of this trend until it’s really, really important to consumers,” said Ben Arnold, a consumer electronics analyst at research firm NPD.
“As someone who studies the market, I just haven’t seen (environmental technology) make a difference in terms of units and dollars,” he added.
Ran Roth, head of technology company Sensibo, agrees that successful devices are those that make financial sense, and believes his product does just that.
Roth’s device uses artificial intelligence and sensors to better manage air conditioning, a significant problem in the often scorching heat of Israel, where his company is based.
Sensibo’s sensors measure humidity and temperature and use software that understands user habits, saving energy and money.
Ross said new technologies should have a “path to profitability” if they were to thrive, a recurring shortcoming of so-called green technologies, which often cannot be financed.
“The beauty of smart thermostats is that they are readily available and offer the highest return on investment,” said Ross, who called air conditioning a “human right.”
But as the climate emergency worsens, industry watchers say big tech companies are under increased pressure to commit to sustainable development goals.
“We’ve seen organizations that indulged in greenwashing over the past year be publicly named and shamed,” said Abhijit Sunil of Forrester Research.
“As a result, many organizations are being cautious in what they refer to as sustainability plans, and they are now being as transparent as possible,” he said.
The real progress on the environment will come in the industrial sector, Sunil said, agreeing that the consumer electronics business may be a step behind in doubling down on its efforts to go green.
When it comes to environmental technologies, product design, manufacturing and packaging that focus on a company’s waste and carbon footprint are low-hanging fruit, he said.
One of these companies, ACWA Robotics, won plaudits at CES by introducing a robot designed to detect and prevent water leaks in underground pipes.
In France, where the startup is based, an estimated 20% of drinking water is lost through leaky pipes.
Fighting for the environment “is the challenge of the century”, ACWA robotics engineer Elise Lengrand told AFP.
“I mean, it’s really cool to do big TV and stuff like that, but that’s what’s really important,” she said.