My 5 Favorite Events of the Year

My 5 Favorite Events of the Year

It's been a long, busy and productive year for those of us who make a living at sustainability related endeavors. Testament I'm sure to the growing importance of this field, and it is rewarding to also see a constant flow of new job openings in academia, at corporates, within governmental bodies and elsewhere in this space continuing to emerge.

This is encouraging to a degree, especially as we attempt to navigate global gridlock at Durban. The solutions will come from the corporates, through three main avenues: efficiency, innovation andnew products that reduce the footprint of their users.

One of the other encouraging trends we've seen in 2011 is the importance of events. Thought I'd give a quick recap of some of the better ones I had a chance to speak at this year, and a look forward to the highlights of at least the start of 2012. There seem to be either really good events, or really bad ones, and so pointing out what works seems a useful task.

And so without further ado, my top five events of 2011 were, in chronological order:

1. MIT's Sustainability Summit, April 22
This was a rewarding experience for me, to speak on the state of environmental play regarding what is measureable, what can be ranked, and most importantly, the chance to interact with a bright group of students seeking positive solutions. It is academic institutions like this that can drive our best chance of innovative success and meaningful change. I try to spend as much time as I can with universities & students for just this reason, and would suggest more of us in the field do the same, it is always rewarding. More information on the summit and next year's event in April can be found here.

2. Northstar Initiative, University of Minnesota, June 28-29
A chance to speak on a panel, the same day as a keynote from Joel Makower, is always a welcome experience. Joel was his usual excellent self. (Here's a nice, short example of Joel's vision if you haven't yet had the chance -- and why haven't you?) Back to all things Minnesota, here's an overview of the NorthStar Initiative from academic leader Tim Smith. Smith and Northstar are focused on practical solutions to the granular sustainability issues we face, which is a very refreshing (and very Midwest) approach to the subject, which I personally have a lot of time for. NorthStar brings together many categories of stakeholders, especially the many large corporates to be found in and around the Twin Cities and it is through collaboration and discussion that we can find best ways forward to the challenges we all face.

Watch for a repeat of this event next June, and if you are in the area, don't miss the January GreenBiz Forum here where we'll be speaking and attending.

3. CLSA Investor Forum, Hong Kong, September 19-22
Had the honor of being invited to speak by CLSA, Asia's leading Investment Bank, at the world's most renowned event for Investors, the 18th Annual CLSA Investor Forum, hosted at Hong Kong's largest hotel, the Grand Hyatt.

The event now attracts 1500 or so of the world's largest investors, fund managers and analysts, and this year featured George Clooney, speaking largely about his fascinating satellite project in the Sudan as the lead speaker. For me, it was a first chance to speak on our new book, Evolutions in Sustainable Investing, which CLSA contributed a chapter.

The book features contributions from thought leaders such as Paul Hawken and Dan Esty, and looks in some depth at how sustainability and investing has become a positive driver of value for all stakeholders. Fifteen fund managers are profiled who have succeeded by being positive in their approaches to the sustainability risks and opportunities that continue to emerge and unravel.

These are also examples of firms successfully moving away from the more negative approaches, which conversely have not outperformed, and the book also discusses metrics, new ways of measuring and regional differences.

Speaking of which, spending time in Hong Kong made abundantly clear the imperative that sustainability has become to this part of the world. Nothing is more important in China than building trust in one's company to best have a chance to succeed and thrive going forward.

Separately, the pollution in the air you breathe every day reminds one quickly of the opportunities that are emerging to clean this up, and the regional challenges that remain in a world of diminishing resources and increasing population. It is very much a race to global sustainability that we are embarked upon, between corporates as well as countries and regions as well, and China will succeed. It is just a question of time and will, and whether it is we in the States who will be left behind.

Watch for solar to emerge next year as a major scalable solution from China (wake me up when the silly trade wars end -- don't we buy things from China all the time?) once the cost curves change, as they already are. And watch CLSA for leading research on the subject through their world class analyst Charles Yonts.

4. RILA's Retail Sustainability Conference, Orlando, October 13-14
Hong Kong to Orlando is a bit of a contrast, but RILA puts on a first rate event. Once again, a practical conversation between all stakeholders, and an all too rare case of a vendors room that works well (other conferences please take note). The experience of being a keynote alongside others such as Gifford Pinchot was an honor, and for me, a chance to go into depth on our Newsweek Green Rankings, with a sector in many ways both just getting started as well as being a key area that can drive important solutions going forward.

5. NAEM, Tucson, October 19-20
Last and certainly not least, was the NAEM Annual Event held this year in fantastic Tucson. A very professional and important event, NAEM was kind enough to host me as a panelist along with Johnson & Johnson, who addressed the growingly important issue of the growing inundation corporates face of rankings, questionnaires, requests for information, etc. in an age when standards have not coalesced.

For me it was an opportunity to discuss the just-released Newsweek Green Rankings, which were out for the 3rd year, and for the first time expanded to 500 global companies, in additional to the usual 500. For Johnson & Johnson, it was a chance to describe how to positively engage with the growing number of requestors, how to prioritize and answer them for best effect. Johnson & Johnson mentioned they answer 25 such requests annually, the attendee from Carnival mentioned that they answer 40 such.

Until we achieve global mandatory reported data, and that doesn't seem to be on the horizon anytime soon, such requests will likely to continue to proliferate. Another form of "Green Job "creation unto itself, perhaps, one might suggest. Keynotes were provided by a number of thought leaders, including Howard Brown of dMass (, another contributor to our latest book. More on NAEM, the leading US association for EHS professionals can be found at their website.

Public events on my radar for 2012 already include:

  • The three State of Green Business events in January in Minnesota, New York and San Francisco
  • Michigan State is hosting a key event on supply chain also in January (contact me for details if of interest)
  • The just-announced ACCO Climate Leadership Awards event now scheduled for Orlando in late February/early March; this is the future of what was the now disbanded EPA Climate Leaders, very glad to see that continuing
  • GLOBE's biannual event is in March in Vancouver
  • I'm hosting an event on Sustainability & Investing at Columbia University's Low Library Rotunda on March 19, where I also teach a class on this at the Earth Institute, which is open to the registering public (again contact me for details if of interest)

And that's just the first three months -- there's also CERES, BSR, Rio+20, VERGE, TBLI and so much more.

Indeed, it has been a long year for us all, with 2012 poised to be another year filled with important events, where we can all have a chance to meet, discuss and find practical solutions together to the challenges we face in a world of what appears to be unstoppable overshoot if we continue with business as usual. We owe nothing less to our children and their children to try and find a sustainable path forward now.