Wednesday, May 07, 2008

INTERVIEW - Joanne Sonenshine, manager of environmental policy at CEA

As it was kindly offered, I recently took the opportunity of having a transatlantic chat with Joanne Sonenshine, manager of environmental policy at CEA.

This is the US Consumer Electronics Association. They are keen to share knowledge and best practice (they have a consumer website - myGreenElectronics* - with a load of very useful info, laid out nice and simply and clearly. There may be a few conversion issues on currency, power ratings and places to take stuff to recycle, but essentially it's international) with other organisations and countries, and here in the UK it is working closely with UK-based Intellect.

They are hoping to offer some thoughts on what will happen to the old TVs in the UK when people switch to digital.

However, given the opportunity, we did cover a few other issues. But first digital.


I don't propose to go into much background here.

Suffice to say that the world is going digital for all sorts of reasons, mostly good ones. But there is a consequence, and that is what happens to all those old analogue bits of kit left around, and the poor sods who paid for them... and are about to be staring at a blank screen.

Well, you are going to have to 'get with the programme' guys, which means doing some stuff. And/or paying for more.

One rather mind-blowing fact is that the entire continental USA will be one day (Feb 17, 2009) analogue, and the next day digital. Click of a switch. And that prospect did not seem to phase the lady who is in a position to know, even though my jaw is only just now creeping back off the floor. I was staggered. A bit like my home nation's handover is... will be.

Here in the UK there is a site, I know (must dig it out) and it has all started...somewhere. A fishing village in Cumbria maybe? And then it will roooooolll out sloooowly around the country, in a well-oiled, machine-like delivery that only those who brought you Heathrow T5 can manage. I guess the one shot approach is a bit of best practice that has not made it across the pond for starters.

Back in the States, the numbers are pretty awe-inspiring, especially for the potential eco-consequences.

What was interesting was mention of a coupon scheme funded by government to enable householders to go a pretty fair way to funding converter boxes to enable their old sets to still be used. I've lost my notes on that, but of the order of 2 x$40 was mentioned. I have no knowledge of such a similar level of support here. Quelle surprise.


This recently in from Dave at Solarventi is a worthy sidebar to add in context. WEEE is the effort that links the consumer, manufacturer, retailer and authorities when it comes to disposal of redundant kit.

As it came post chat I couldn't discuss the situation in detail with Joanne, but of course the States don't have an EU, and hence don't have a WEEE Directive. But what they do have is similar efforts, to varying degrees, state by state. Sound familiar?


I wanted to end with this (again), as I like information that's useful, and I like sites that share stuff clearly and easily... and freely.

I'd really recommend the odd roam.

I found one section that initially seemed to be missing actually is covered within. And that's repair. Not really a surprise, as this is simply not in the modern lexicon any more. Fair reasons, if not happy excuses, falling down to time and money... and complexity.

But there is a link to another site - - where there was some nifty stuff that at the very least gives you a fighting chance on re-kickstarting some bit of electronic kit, from PCs to Mobiles to TVs. I've certainly bookmarked it.

The main site also has useful stats to focus the mind a bit more on our profligate ways and how things are improving at least:

* The average energy consumption by televisions in standby mode has already been reduced from 30W in 1995 to 1.8W today, and it is continuing to decrease. Similarly the power consumption of televisions when in use has come down from 400W to 30W since the 1970s.

* A TV on standby for one hour uses less electricity than a 100W light bulb does in two minutes, and the TV would have to be on continual standby for nearly a month to use the same electricity needed to boil a kettle.

* Sony BRAVIA TVs can consume as little as 0.3 Watts in standby (off is still better, guys, but it does rather put some recent 'excitements' in context)

And to close, a little toot of my 'practice what you preach' trumpet. It actually stemmed from a conversation about the Energy Star rating used in the States (and, from what I recall, in Asia at least a decade ago. I certainly remember the logo on IT kit there. Here we have that colour bar thing now, right?). Because...

* Apple’s Mini Mac (that yours truly is typing with now) uses only 25W when on, less than half the power of a conventional light bulb, and less than the 30W that many older computers consume even in standby or idle mode.

I'd like to say I planned it that way, but it just kinda worked out. For once:)

I just hope I will be doing as well when digital hits my town.

Addendum - Having just watched BBC News announce its launch, I had hoped Freesat may add to our knowledge. Sadly, at time of writing, it's down. STOP PRESS - It's now up!

Daily Mail - BBC and ITV launch 'free' 80-channel satellite system which costs up to £200 to install - The DM as my only source of info!

Guardian - BBC and ITV launch belated digital satellite service - Now others arrive...phew!

The Register - NEW - Freesat launches in UK

IPD - 23/04/08

Half the equation

Calculating your home's carbon footprint

I share this because I mainly agree with, and applaud it, but also because it serves as a good example of how over-enthusiastic enviro-converts either miss, or gloss over realities. And basic science. And human nature.

Measuring stuff is great... and necessary. And can be useful. But to be meaningful and truly useful you need controls, and.or comparisons. Plus a whole wadge of information to help you in a direction once you have the data.

I remain totally bemused by the fact that a pack of crisps contains 75g of carbon. what? Buy another pack? Don't buy it at all? What?

It's better with energy consumption, but in isolation hard to see what I can do with it save buying a bunch of kit (I have) and spending a ton of time (I do) to get depressed (don't ask).

Using the methodology shared here I can and will do the necessary calculations to measure my home's carbon footprint annually, but remain unsure as to how this, in isolation, is a great way of reducing the contribution it makes to climate change.

OK, if I drive the number down (especially as the £ per unit of energy goes up rises) I will feel better, but it seems a little vague to me on real impacts.