My five favorite events of 2012

My five favorite events of 2012

One very clear trend emerged from the volatile but amazing year that was 2012: There are way too many sustainable business events to choose from. As environmental and social trends continue to grow in import, events will continue to be key places and times to meet, discuss, debate as well as to celebrate and commiserate.

Although there may be too many events for any mere mortal to consider, here’s a quick guide to the best events that 2012 had to offer from my perspective, which can hopefully help you calibrate your calendar for the 12 months ahead. 

Interestingly, perhaps, my five favorite events of 2012 were completely different than my picks last year. Clearly, events come and go in significance, so event organizers need to up their game and keep an eye on quality.

My top five events of 2012 were, in chronological order:

1. Ceres, April 2012, Boston. Some events vary in quality from year to year, but somehow, Ceres manages to put on a first-class event each time. Managing to bring together mainstream corporates, investors, activists and thought leaders, Ceres events are always great places to gather and discuss key issues of the day and the sustainability industry. Jeremy Rifkin’s speech stood out, providing the sort of transformational energy vision change we require. It will be an especially interesting event in 2013 (this year in San Francisco), given the reelection of Obama, the cap-and-trade developments in California, the changing weather being experienced from Hurricane Sandy and Midwestern drought and storm frequency, leading Americans to talk about sustainability like never before. The opportunity to develop a real change agenda is before us and needs to be seized, and if any group is up for it, it is Ceres. The only challenge for Ceres 2013 is that there are two other excellent events happening at the same time in California (see ARCS below + Fortune’s typically excellent Brainstorm Green event).

2. VERGE, May 2012, Arlington, Virginia. The indelible image one is left with from the VERGE DC 2012 conference was “mash-up.” Bringing together many different perspectives and players from sustainability and technology, it worked well from an audience perspective. Change is in the air, and one needs to be swirled around the possibilities across innovation, policy, corporate sustainability and technology to envision the ways forward. GreenBiz’s other events, the 2013 GreenBiz Forums, are high on my list of events for 2013. I fully expect them to attract the best and brightest, given the clear opportunity corporates have to use sustainability as differentiating factors going forward. The Newsweek Green Rankings 2012 made clear as previous reports have before, that we are in a deep state of status quo, which is unsustainable. Can corporates emerge as the solution? (I didn't make it to the VERGE SF event in November, but heard it was even better.)

3. Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability, May 2012, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. I had the honor of speaking on a panel at the fourth annual ARCS event, hosted at Yale’s Center for Business and the Environment. ARCS is always a high-quality event, fit for sustainability practitioners and academics alike. This year’s was especially noteworthy for having the opportunity to participate in a classroom setting, reviewing leading case studies with the likes of the University of Michigan’s Andy Hoffman and other luminaries. Always one of my favorite events, I’ll have to somehow navigate California quickly and efficiently in late April/early May in order to attend the 2013 event, held at Berkeley.

4. Canadian Responsible Investment Conference, June 2012, Montreal, Quebec. I’d heard good things about this event, and as Montreal continues to emerge as a center of thought leadership on sustainability and investing — see the Montreal-based pension fund, Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec, the second largest in Canada, which is transparent and specific on its criteria, unlike most of its global counterparts — this was a very enjoyable event to attend and speak at. Canada’s economy has been doing relatively well globally for many reasons, and sustainability factors are always hugely important for the region, including First Nation issues that have impact on the U.S. and globally. It will be interesting to watch the region continue to emerge as sophisticated on this important subject. One of the great investment ideas of the last many years, by the way, at a time when the S&P 500 has been flat for the last 12 years, is to simply move one’s money from U.S. to Canadian dollars. (Check with your investment professional first, of course.) Canada’s conservative, careful and friendly nature is paying off in many ways, even while challenges remain. 

5. Net Impact, October 2012, Baltimore. Last and far from least was the annual Net Impact conference. On the brink of Hurricane Sandy, there was an ominous feel to what was about to transpire, but the rain did nothing to dampen the positive enthusiasm of the thousands of attending students. This is the future, and long may they reign with their positive mentality and approach to the sustainability challenges which remain. For me, it was a last chance to speak publicly about the work of Trucost, and the so-called environmental P&L work that had been performed with acclaim for Puma.

2013 already is emerging as event-rich. As the new Executive Director for the Network for Sustainable Financial Markets, I am planning on piggybacking existing events to take advantage of times where people are already planning to gather. Many key events are in California in 2013, with New York City as another place everyone loves to gather. The GreenBiz Forum in February and the TBLI Conference in June, both in New York, and the three California events above are just some of the ones to watch for in the months ahead.

Happy event planning, everyone.

Photo of VERGE DC by Goodwin Ogbuehi for GreenBiz Group.