Hats off to Fortune magazine, whose Brainstorm Green conference last week was one of the best events I've ever attended. That's high praise from someone who attends way too many green business (and other) events, and who finds scant praise for most. This one has risen to the top of my can't-miss annual events.
The reason: My colleague (and GreenBiz.com senior writer) Marc Gunther, co-impresario of the event along with fellow Fortune contributor Brian Dumaine, managed to create a three-ring circus of high-caliber speakers and attendees -- which in turn spawned a thousand conversations, both on stage and off. It was that mix that made the magic: CEOs (from Ford to Zipcar, Walmart to REI, Patagonia to Monsanto), heads of Big Green environmental groups (NRDC, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, et al.), to venture capitalists to cleantech entrepreneurs to thought leaders (Bill McDonough, Stewart Brand, Sylvia Earle) to senior executives at more than 100 Fortune 500 companies. You don't typically get that kind of group interacting.
But it was more than just the people. It was the mix of topics (the smart grid, green consumers, the fate of the oceans, nuclear energy, net-zero-energy buildings) and formats (panels, one-on-one interviews, and roundtable discussions, with nary a slide deck in sight). And it was the setting -- both the natural setting (atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean) and the manufactured setting (the main room was filled with 300 or so Aeron chairs, dozens of flat-panel screens, and Hollywood-caliber staging).
That's a terrific recipe for success. The result was a rich gumbo of lively conversations, debates, exchanges, and presentations -- and some entertainment thrown in for good measure.
Did I mention the boa constrictor and flamingos?
As I said, I've been to countless -- too many, in fact -- green business conclaves over the past two decades, and they pretty much blur together. At many of the these events there's more than a little kvetching about the format -- it's too long, too short, not enough networking, too many speakers, not enough variety, horrible food, frustrating venue, and -- increasingly common these days -- the same old speakers.
I don't recall hearing any of those things last week in Laguna Nigel.
Here's the best part: You can watch videos of the main-stage presentations -- free, at least for now. That makes this event everyone's good fortune.