Something remarkable happens when you put corporations and nonprofits, executives and activists, and artists and scientists together to brainstorm. Such paradoxes were the magic ingredient in the conversations at the second annual South by Southwest ECO, held in Austin, Tex., earlier this month. The participants demonstrated why multi-sector, interdisciplinary teams are greater than the sum of their parts.
On Day One, I participated in a roundtable discussion with one of these teams to learn how their strategy for results-driven civic sustainability engagement could be applied to other cities.
“We had been comparing notes with Dell, Whole Foods and other local businesses on our sustainability and employee volunteerism efforts when the idea hit us,” said Tim Mohin, Director, Corporate Responsibility at Advanced Micro Devices, better known as AMD. “It was one of those forehead-slapping moments. If we combine our efforts, we could field a veritable army of volunteers that could accomplish amazing things for the local community.”
The idea took root when AMD stepped up to sponsor the first such combined volunteer effort at South by Southwest ECO. “Since it is our backyard, we thought it was a great opportunity to try out our green-army concept,” said Justin Murrill, AMD’s sustainability manager.
To field an army of green-minded employees, AMD started by working with other local businesses like Dell and Whole Foods. Then, it teamed up with the City of Austin, Austin Community College, and the University of Texas at Austin.
“We quickly realized that partnering with nonprofits such as Keep Austin Beautiful, the Waller Creek Conservancy, American YouthWorks and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center was essential to the success of this concept,” said Murrill.
“By tying this idea into the SXSW ECO conference, we not only maximized exposure and involvement, but we have created model for other events to follow,” said Mohin. “Imagine the good we could achieve if corporations could choose to sponsor a volunteer event rather than a coffee break at conferences around the world.”
In conjunction with the conference, AMD sponsored the cleanup of Waller Creek, inviting hundreds of volunteers to help clean up trash along the urban waterway. Starting on University of Texas's campus, volunteers worked their way to down to Lady Bird Lake, picking up litter by foot and by kayak. The daylong project covered 25 blocks of creek through central Austin and included tree planning on the UT campus. A volunteer reception followed the event.
“The idea was to bring networking into this,” said Mohin. “As a member of the tree planting crew, I can tell you that we all bonded in planting a really nice Oak tree on the UT campus. We even named our tree ‘Murphy.’ It was a much richer experience than the typical wine-and-cheese reception,” said Mohin.
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