The new year kicked off in Las Vegas with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – an event that convenes the world’s leading technology brands for days of press conferences and product launches, providing insights into the future of the electronics industry. We watched with awe as Samsung unveiled its bendable TV, LG announced a service allowing users to text their home appliances and Pebble revealed Steel, its sleek new smartwatch.
However, what we didn’t observe demands equal attention; that is, brands that promote truly sustainable, practical solutions for consumers and our environment, rather than just mere wonderment. Some brands continue to lead the conversation, such as auto brands, Toyota and Ford, who displayed fuel cell and solar powered vehicles, respectively, and Intel, whose CEO announced the brand’s commitment to conflict-free minerals in its processors and urged other tech giants to follow suit. But, these represented an exception rather than a rule.
In Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2013 report, technology companies claimed six of the ten top spots, demonstrating this sector’s burgeoning importance in consumers’ everyday lives. It is time for these highly influential technology brands to capitalize on an amazing opportunity to introduce innovative products that offer consumers control and convenience, while protecting our planet, and advance the broader conversation around the environmental benefits of technology. The opportunity is too great not to.
Machine-to-machine technology (M2M) connects appliances and infrastructure and allows them to communicate with one another in a growing connected ecosystem; the technology that took center stage at both last year’s and this year’s CES. With an estimated market potential of $19 trillion, this Internet of Things excites brands and investors alike. At the same time, this technology offers unimaginable environmental benefits, a fact that is often ignored in the current conversation.
In a recent study, AT&T and the Carbon War Room found that global greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced 9.1 billion metric tons by 2020 through rapid deployment of M2M technologies. These innovations could touch the most energy intensive industries, including energy generation, heating and cooling systems, transportation and agriculture.
Imagine a world where all the vehicles on the road can communicate with one another, allowing them to travel more closely together and reduce accidents. Such is the promise of automotive brand Nissan, who recently announced multiple autonomous vehicles ready for production by 2020. As this technology proliferates and safety increases, cars could travel in caravans and be made with lighter materials, both of which would improve efficiency.
Or, in the future your fridge alerts you when your spinach is about to spoil and conveniently provides a recipe using that produce. Not only will you have a delicious meal, but you have also eliminated potential food waste.
With these benefits so readily available, why aren’t brands touting their products’ environmental benefits? It deserves acknowledgement that CES is a tech nerd’s heaven. Attendees wish to see what is sparkly and new, not what is necessarily the most environmentally friendly. However, promoting environmental benefits is absent across all conferences and big tech reveals.
It is a brand’s responsibility to use this global stage and their influence to educate consumers about these benefits and drive demand. In fact, a study even found that almost two thirds of consumers expect companies to lead solutions that improve the environment – an unrealized opportunity to promote technology products that already include these benefits.
Some in industry could profess ignorance of these impacts altogether, but in the contemporary Information Age it is unimaginable that a brand wouldn’t understand the environmental benefits of their products when that same information is so readily available to consumers. Rather, it’s likely they are making a strategic decision not to promote these benefits for fear that doing so would make them more susceptible to criticisms of greenwashing – a criticism they are not prepared to defend against.
What the world needs now are truly innovative products that offer solutions to one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century – protecting our planet in a time of unprecedented global growth.
Companies must first embrace sustainability as a key component of their brand and challenge others to do the same. Today, brands that are rising leaders in sustainable practices, such as HP and their Living Progress platform, started with a sense of humility and admitted imperfection at the onset, which was greeted with encouragement rather than skepticism.
These companies continue to demonstrate their commitment through transparency and clearly articulated future goals. This model can serve as a guide for technology brands as they seek to spark their own industry conversation around the environmental benefits of new technology.
Lucas Piazza is an Associate Consultant, Strategy, at Interbrand New York.