“A gathering of the tribe,” Sustainatopia founder John Rosser might say when asked to describe the conference. And it’s true. The coming together of sustainability practitioners – some of whom have been practicing for decades, perhaps as environmentalists or EHS (Environment, Health and Safety) professionals, some fresh from graduate studies – makes for an event that supersedes the superb content because of the deep ties, newly formed or renewed. Camaraderie emerges from the unifying principle of trying to do good and the excitement of collective problem solving. John wants the event to be a catalyst for action, the primary agenda being bringing extremely knowledgeable people to share and explore new ways to work together.
The Sustainatopia conference, held October 9-12, was my fifth. In the past three years, both the conference itself and its themes have become more mainstream. There’s momentum here and we veterans recognize it. Socially responsible investors, entrepreneurs, community leaders and corporate responsibility leaders make for a rich mix when suddenly things become possible. When huge financial investment puts its muscle behind positive change, a kind of optimism forms, creating a magnetic force some were calling “a conspiracy for good.”
One of my favorite sessions was “A Deep Dive on the Circular Economy,” led by Laura Thompson of Sappi Fine Paper and Todd Cort of Yale University. Favorite because yes, we learned about concrete movements toward circularity and favorite because we grappled with problems we don’t know how to solve. The paper and pulp industry has gone a long way toward closing the loop, with many of its products being recycled and incorporated into new products. We, in the electronics industry, however, face significant challenges. For example, rare earth elements are used in virtually every electronic device, yet their recovery is not yet economically viable. As electronics get smaller and smaller, making their way back becomes a greater and greater challenge.
This time was my third leading a panel on building collaborative networks – and it, too, was the best yet. Special thanks to my co-panelists:
- Sarah Finnie Robinson talked about learning how not to be afraid of anyone
- Matthew Gardner stressed that the only way to solve problems like climate change will be through networks – networks of people and networks of data
- Jim Hamilton emphasized the need for authenticity and how it can create common ground
- Lisa Lillelund talked about actively helping people you want to connect with, sharing books and articles for example, or anything you think might be useful to them
We talked about the need for multidisciplinary approaches, the need to come at problems from many angles and the need to grow one’s network in many directions. We talked about generosity and tolerance and the need to further develop our listening skills. And that led to a very special experience I’ll be sharing with you next week.
I encourage you to hold the dates for the next Sustainatopia – May 7-10, 2017, in San Francisco. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to learn more. I hope to see you there.
Carol Baroudi works for Arrow’s Value Recovery business promoting sustainability awareness and action. She is the lead author of Green IT For Dummies. Her particular focus is on electronics in the Circular Economy, with an emphasis on the IT asset disposition stage, e-waste and everything connected. Follow her on Twitter at @carol_baroudi and connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/carolbaroudi.