Joe Hutsko is a technology writer and the author of Green Gadgets for Dummies, which covers green and sustainable technologies from mobile gadgets to energy-efficient home systems. He is a veteran of Apple during the John Sculley reign, and is the author of the novel, The Deal, based on Steve Jobs-Sculley corporate fracas. We recently caught up with Hutsko and posed a few very jealous questions.
So Joe, is my iPhone green?
Yes and no. It’s green in some ways. You can do more than one thing with it. But it’s not so green when you throw it away [and heavy metals leach out of it].
How is Green Gadgets for Dummies doing?
Honestly, I hope there’s no need for the book.
What’s your favorite green gadget—and why?
I need my iPhone myself, but my favorite is the Kindle [e-book reader]. There are so many apps and distractions on the iPhone, I tend not to read on it. But with the Kindle, I’ve read more than I’ve read in a really long time. And I’m saving paper.
I switched from a notebook to a netbook a few moths ago—and I like that the netbook is little. I can charge it and use it in a café for hours without a charge. And it focuses me more. Because of the small screen, I prefer to run only one app at time. I hesitate to do multiple things at once.
Can there be a “greenest” gadget?
I say in the book there’s no such thing as a [truly] green gadget. There can be a greener gadget. Some are greener than others. I think it’s great that Greenpeace tracks green electronics [with its Guide to Greener Electronics].
What do you think of the Apple iPad?
I think it’s interesting. It’s like a big iPhone. I gravitate to smaller stuff. The iPad will have good sales up front for people who like their iPhones. And I’d like it a lot more if I could use it outside like the Kindle.
What do you think of home energy monitoring systems and their potential impact?
I think they’re valuable. When I had The Energy Detective [TED] in my house, I was paying $150 a month [for electricity]. I found that the culprit was a 1,500-watt heater, and when I turned it off, I noticed how much it saved. It definitely impacted my ability to visualize what I was spending.
What was your biggest surprise in writing Green Gadgets for Dummies?
I’ve been writing about gadgets for years, yet very quickly, this was one of the most difficult things to learn, because there was so much I took for granted. For instance, Apple’s MacBook Air was sculpted from a 4-pound block of metal and billed as green, yet a lot of energy is required to produce it. It almost becomes a paranoia to think of all these things.
I also knew some about recycling, but I didn’t know there were so many places to recycle a computer, or about refurbishment, and taking back old cell phones.
What green gadget or green technology of the future gets you most excited?
Computers will get more and more efficient. But I think the big breakthrough is the kinetic stuff that can charge your mobile device as you move around. Dynamic power parlayed to electronics is really cool. And transflective displays that are readable in the sunlight.
Do you think people understand the benefits of green technology?
In general, no, not really. Even friends of mine who are great with recycling stuff, they’re not really thinking of green in terms of electronics and technology.
Can we change consumer consciousness?
It has to get to a point that the consumer has to think about it. It would be a great if we didn’t need a Greener Gadgets conference to address that, for instance. But like was said at Greener Gadgets, how do you make a green product sexy? Apple does a good job of it.
What do you think the consumer electronics industry has to do to be truly green?
You’ve got to lose to win in this area. You’ve got to spend to eventually reap the benefits of being green—when the public does get it. I think [consumer electronics companies] can’t avoid it any longer. The companies are becoming aware that it’s going to catch up with them. Yet there might be just a small green line of products that they produce.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates