The Greenest Gadgets Still to Come

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One of the internet’s biggest design sites recently held a “Greener Gadget” competition. We take a look at the best entries and see how great they really are.

Last month, famed design website core77 announced the winners of their Greener Gadgets design competition. We’ve already blogged about the #1 winner here (the tweet-a-watt, which twitters your power consumption), but what about the other entries? Let’s round up some of the winners, finalists, and other designs that didn’t quite make the cut. The stuff that didn’t win is gonna surprise you.

 

Break that Piggy-Bank

Their second place winner was the Power-Hog, a wonderful idea from the US. Designed to teach kids about power consumption, you plug this piggy-bank looking creature into the wall, attach whatever device you want to power into the bank, and then deposit a coin for 30 minutes of electricity.

What’s cool about the invention isn’t that it marks any kind of technological breakthrough, rather that it acknowledges a fundamental concept behind saving energy and driving up awareness of its consumption: psychology.

Behaviour doesn’t get changed because people simply feel guilty about one thing or another; it takes dozens of instances, testimonials, direct evidence, or some kind of special series of events in order to change the way we think. For some, it’s an influential film or book, or a visit to a landfill, or a gigantic energy bill. For kids, it’s a whole different story.

 

Old School Methods for New Lessons

This is why the Power-Hog is rather cool: just as the old-fashioned piggy bank is expressly designed as the most simple way of teaching a child the value of savings (this of course was the point of the piggy bank you had to break—it was a method of not being able to touch your savings, however meagre, until absolutely necessary), the Power-Hog keeps your money in order to teach you a lesson.

There are plenty of products floating around that make a token effort to get kids involved in all things green, but the Power-Hog is one of the first we’ve seen that takes an active approach at changing psychology, and does it with a tried-and-true method. Look for this to be on the market soon.

 

More Psychology, Sort Of

The other gadget that really grabbed us is called the WattBlock(s). You take series of electronic ‘blocks’, and put them in-between power-consuming devices (like DVD players or computers) and their respective outlets.

Then, when you’re ready to leave the house, you step on a switch, plugged in somewhere near the door. This shuts down the power to all those devices that would otherwise just suck on it while you’re out (these are known as ‘vampire devices’).

While it’s not perfect—you’ve got to make sure all your devices don’t still need any power, and kids and dogs could step on it—it tackles another little issue that seems like nothing but is actually everything: the physical and pyschological inconvenience of turning off all your stuff.

Going and flicking a switch is one thing, but getting down there and shutting down a power bar or unplugging heavy plugs from 5 different wall outlets just isn’t something everyone can be bothered to do when leaving the house. Scold all you want, but it’s the psychological truth. Hence the switch, which can be flipped without bending over and messing around with wires. Easy enough that it just might become habit.

One of the commenters on the original post discussed this option, and speculated how it might be attached to the house door, so when you leave your home or apartment and lock up, the device could kick in and shut down all your ‘vampire’ electronics.

As we continue to develop more ‘smart home’ products, there will surely come a day when a few buttons on our key-ring or next to our front door will shut down every last power-consuming device in our house, or something similar. Until then, we’ve got do make do with stop-gap solutions, and the WattBlocks are some of the most innovative.

 

Do We Need a New Drying Rack?

Strangely enough, their second-place winner went to a drying rack. I suppose it’s simply because I’m living in a Mediterranean climate and so have been around drying racks for some time now, but I was slightly confused by the award—it’s cool to make a drying rack out of 100% sustainable materials, but hasn’t this idea been around for, well, centuries?

Sure, it’s warmer in Italy, but we still have winters here, with cold nights that make drying outside on clotheslines somewhat impractical. We use indoor drying racks instead, all of which are foldable and can be shipped flat. And when one of the rack’s main selling points is that “many suburbs do not allow clotheslines”, is it really true that we need a product to sort that out, and not just a by-law campaign?

 

A Larger Debate

Well, maybe we do need more drying racks around. God knows there are plenty of dryers already being made. And so if drying racks are necessary some of the time, you might as well buy one that’s sustainable and properly made. But for me, this product was less a great gadget than an invitation to re-open a larger debate about what we expect from our suburbs.

The ridiculous fact that some peripheral zones won’t allow front-lawn gardens or clotheslines due to various aesthetic considerations is already plenty silly, but is also understandable, when absolutely zero thought about sustainability goes into much planning/zoning work.

But in the midst of a worldwide crisis and a push towards sustainable agriculture, and when the White House has an organic garden, there shouldn’t be a suburban lawn in the world that isn’t legally allowed to turn itself into a vegetable garden. Plus, tomato vines look better than a highly manicured lawn anyway. We’ll explore some of those issues (and some of the potential headaches you might face if you want to tear up your lawn) in a future article.