CeBIT's green gambit falls on empty halls

Europe's biggest information technology fair went green this year -- the problem was that there weren't many people around to notice.
Written by Georgina Prodhan, Contributor

Europe's biggest information technology fair went green this year -- the problem was that there weren't many people around to notice.

CeBIT 2008 was a slimmed-down, serious affair, cut back to six days from seven. Formerly sprawling exhibits were corralled into order by theme and publicity stunts banished to the weekend that now comes at the end of the show, not the middle.

The idea is to turn dwindling exhibitor and visitor interest into a virtue by using the lack of gadgety distractions to create a business-like arena where managers could get on with meeting, greeting, and checking out the competition.

The result was an atmosphere free of the chaos of previous years but also devoid of excitement, casting a feeling of desertion over the vast trade-fair grounds in the northern German city of Hanover.

"We decided to do product launches globally at CES," said Michael Langbehn, in charge of PR and marketing in Germany for electronics maker Panasonic, referring to the huge annual consumer electronics show held in January in Las Vegas.

"Then there's IFA, which is a must," he added. IFA is the August/September consumer gadgets fair in Berlin that has drawn electronics makers and the German public away from CeBIT.

"And then consider the BRIC countries, which also have their own fairs that are growing."

Like most exhibitors who still elect to come to CeBIT -- this year there are 5,845 of them, five percent down from last year -- Panasonic is using CeBIT to explain its less glamorous business-system products to potential clients.

Talk of "solutions" of all kinds -- vertical, digital, and security -- abounded at the fair.

Cisco was one of the few to talk about the problems demanding these solutions as it launched a new Internet router to help cope with a surge in monthly data sent over the Internet to 29 exabytes by 2011 -- equivalent to 144 times all the world's printed matter.

CeBIT organisers declared the theme of this year's show to be the environment and built a "green village" to house companies peddling products to boost corporate energy efficiency and reduce toxic waste.

"CeBIT Goes Green -- Big Time" was the main headline of the official CeBIT News on Wednesday, recognising that "green IT" is a trend impossible to ignore as both energy costs and climate-altering carbon emissions soar.

Microsoft chief exec Steve Ballmer, by far the highest-profile speaker at CeBIT, conformed with the trend by announcing a deal with German energy provider Yello Strom for technology to display electricity consumption on a home PC.

But most journalists were only interested in quizzing him on Microsoft's campaign to buy Yahoo.

Environmental group Greenpeace promised a hard look at the green claims of electronics manufacturers, driven more by a need to cut costs than a desire to save the planet.

At a sparsely attended news conference, it singled out products from Apple, Sony Ericsson, and Nokia for praise while cautioning, "It's not enough just to offer a green computer for the tree-huggers."

Greenpeace's "could do better" verdict on the industry -- following a gadget survey severely limited by manufacturers' willingness to cooperate -- could apply to the new-concept CeBIT as a whole.

CeBIT continues in Hanover until Sunday.

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