HANOVER, Germany — California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger kicked off the world’s biggest high-tech fair Tuesday, telling executives to seize the economic crisis as a moment to shape up and go “green”.
Schwarzenegger, this year’s guest of honor at the sprawling CeBIT fair in this northern German city, toured stands with Chancellor Angela Merkel as the six-day event opened under a cloud of financial gloom.
Dropping by IBM’s giant space, Schwarzenegger said that as the information technology sector’s carbon footprint grows larger by the year, now was the time to promote more energy efficiency to cut costs as well as reduce emissions.
“The only way we can move forward is not just with the will but with the technology,” the Austrian-born governor said, adding it was up to industry innovators to lead the way.
California is the honorary guest at this year’s CeBIT and Schwarzenegger has come to the fair with around 50 firms from his state, most from ailing Silicon Valley.
The German press had hoped the “Governator” would give the event a shot in the arm.
Some 4,300 firms from 69 countries are displaying the latest netbooks, handsets, navigators and software solutions at the fair — a quarter fewer than last year due to the global economic slump.
That contrasts with the more than 8,000 exhibitors that attended in 2001 in the heyday of the “new economy.” Organizers said small hardware and telecommunications suppliers from China, Taiwan and South Korea had pulled out in droves.
Hot topics at this year’s fair include “green” gadgets, “e-health” using the internet to revolutionize patient care, electronic books and “cloud computing”, an efficiency tool in which applications or data are stored online instead of being installed and maintained on users’ machines.
Schwarzenegger’s message fit with another key theme at the show: using the global economic meltdown as a chance to promote cost-saving, energy-efficient products and harness technology for long-term business restructuring.
Giant signs on the sides of the fairground buildings show the word “crisis” crossed out, replaced with the word “opportunity”.
Environmental pressure group Greenpeace launched an “IT Climate Leadership Challenge” at the fair calling on high-tech sector executives to “turn climate change into a business opportunity”.
The group sent a letter to the CEOs of companies including Cisco, Dell, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba, Fujitsu and Sharp urging the firms to slash their own emissions and throw their weight behind an international climate pact at a U.N. meeting in Copenhagen in December.
“Companies that take the lead in this challenge will see a massive increase in their market share as top-line support for a strong climate deal can only be good for the bottom line of the ICT industry,” Greenpeace campaigner Tom Dowdall said.
While in Hanover, Schwarzenegger also picked up an award from the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany for “his exceptional commitment to the global issues of environment and energy” in California.
At a CeBIT opening ceremony, Merkel joined Schwarzenegger in urging executives to develop better “green” technology and states to improve high-tech infrastructure.
“I think there is such a thing as truly safe investments in the future,” Merkel said citing innovation in information and communications technology.
Germany’s technology industry lobby, BITKOM, said Monday that it expected to weather the downturn relatively unscathed with turnover to hold steady at about €145 billion ($183 billion), thanks in part to new public investment in broadband networks and school computers.
The CeBIT runs until Sunday.