Going fast, going far, going together

Sunset on the Sonoran Desert that surrounds Phoenix, Arizona, scene of the annual GreenBiz conference.

Growing up, my dad would often say, "The whole should be greater than the sum of the parts," which he picked up from his father. For him, this applied to teams, relationships, partnerships of any kind in which you’re working together towards a common goal, particularly a challenging one.

My parents have incredibly complementary strengths and different skills, and they always take opposite approaches to problems. Even when dressing my sister and me as children, one would put the pants on first while the other would start with the top. They never do anything the same way, but the business they’ve shared for more than 30 years could not have existed without both of them.

This idea has stuck with me. I recognize the strengths of others, how to fill in my own weaknesses with the contributions others bring to the table, and how my skills and strengths are best used, particularly when taking on challenges.

Sustainability is an incredibly complex concept to put into action. Even the word sustainability is an all-encompassing umbrella. So many pieces fit into this idea, from responsible sourcing to labor rights, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, poverty, renewable energy, and much more. There are myriad problems to solve, and each of us brings our own expertise and unique strengths and viewpoints to the challenges we choose to tackle.

In 2013, when Arizona State University's Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives invited us to move our annual GreenBiz conference to Phoenix to coincide with its first Sustainability Solutions Festival, we jumped at the chance to leverage our respective expertise and strengths. We were excited to unify our audience in one destination, following years of holding multiple GreenBiz conferences days apart in different cities each winter (usually in cold climes). This was a chance for everyone to be together over three days in a beautiful, warm destination.

It was a no-brainer.

ASU also brought the Sustainability Consortium to the festival, and TSC since has contributed to the GreenBiz conference, sharing the expertise of its researchers, inviting its members to participate and convening its own meetings alongside ours.

With these two cornerstone partners, we’ve grown our annual conference, attracting more attendees each year. We’ve invited other groups to bring their networks to Phoenix during GreenBiz. We want the GreenBiz conference to be a place where others want to host their meetings. Given that sustainability professionals are limited in their time and travel budgets, we want to give everyone the most value for their precious time and dollars.

This year, at GreenBiz 17, we are excited to more fully realize this aspiration. In addition to our cornerstone partners, we’ll be hosting partner events — meetings convened by leading NGO and academic partners, each focused on a different piece of the sustainability puzzle.

Second Nature will gather higher education presidents, chancellors and campus sustainability teams committed to bold climate action. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development will host a conference, sharing its work on the Natural Capital Protocol, the Social Capital Protocol and the Redefining Value Program, all valuable tools for corporate sustainability professionals. The Climate Group will convene members around its new EP100 initiative, focused on doubling corporate energy productivity. The Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council will convene members to address effective procurement practices and strategies. GRI’s symposium will offer practical solutions in sustainability reporting. Bonneville Environmental Foundation, our water offsets provider, will hold a press briefing and reception. And a few more programs are still in the works.

We’re delighted to be able to offer our conference participants such rich opportunities for engagement with leading organizations, and to consolidate our community’s valuable time and efforts. We’re thrilled by the strengths each of these partners brings to the table, both to ASU’s festival and to the world overall, in the process accelerating sustainability solutions at a high level.

I’m especially thankful that this is the year it has all come together, when we need it most. Regardless of whether we have support from our national leaders, we’ll have each other and the unique strengths each individual, company, organization and institution brings to climate and sustainability solutions.

Another favorite saying of mine is the African proverb "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." I think it goes without saying that it’s important for us to move quickly, but even more important to go the distance.

I feel fortunate to be part of the sustainability community. I lean on all of you and I hope you lean on GreenBiz. I look forward to seeing you at GreenBiz 17 this February, and hope you’ll bring your strengths to the momentum we will create there.

Even more than that, I look forward to seeing how far we can go together, how our whole can be greater than the sum of our parts.