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Register Now For Green Sustainable Efficiency World 2008!

Reflecting back on 2007, one industry clearly stands out as having benefited big time from the growing interest in sustainability: the conference industry. It seems like every week has offered at least one, and often more, chances to attend a brand new sustainability, efficiency or environmental conference of some kind.

The obvious question is whether or not sustainability conferences are, themselves, sustainable. Do they justify the environmental cost of the event and travel? But as I was recently sitting on stage with vice presidents from four other Fortune 500 companies, looking out at an audience of less than 25, I had to ask myself if the personal and time costs were justified as well.

I believe these conferences have played two important roles in the last year. First, they helped raise awareness, or more importantly, an educated awareness of the situation and the challenges ahead. Second, they helped companies get started by discussing key points (economic benefits, organizational interest, example projects that worked, etc.).

Together, I believe these roles have helped pave the way for a surge in corporate environmental efforts in the U.S. (just read Environmental Leader every day for evidence of the surge).

name_tag.jpgBut my recent on-stage experience, comments from others, and general progress lead me to believe that these roles aren’t enough to justify so many events in 2008. To stay relevant, I think two things need to happen.

First, we need more real-world experiences that others can learn from. For example, in which regions do solar projects make sense today? What are effective tools for employee engagement? How do we incent greener behavior in the purchasing department?

Second, we need less marketing. At conferences, companies tend to present in ways which put them in a good light, but tell me little about what to do at Sun. Believe me – I’ll think more highly of you and your company if you share a concrete idea, than if you waste a half hour of my life telling me how wonderful you are. I blame the speakers for this, but the conference folks also need to step up.

All this raises a bigger question: How many general purpose sustainability conferences do we really need? Is this really a long-term, stand-alone topic, or are the really important discussions going to happen at the finance conference and the supply chain conference and the investor conference and the IT conference?

Time will tell, but as sustainability moves deeper into the day-to-day activities of each company, this is where the real innovation has to happen.

Dave Douglas is Vice President of Eco Responsibility at Sun Microsystems

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7 thoughts on “Register Now For Green Sustainable Efficiency World 2008!

  1. Dave,

    Great article!You are right about the sharing, I learn so much from my suppliers. This is one initiative where sharing is contagious.

  2. Dave’s comments are right on the money. The sustainability agenda faces potential market backlash from over exposure and under delivery on promises. We each must act on the best interest of our companies as well as the participating industries (there are many from consumer products to industrial “rust belt” all the way to the high-tech and bio-tech), government agencies, and social agenda organizations to bring forward logical strategies with concrete actionable practices that make a quantifiable and verifiable difference today. Not a list of can, should, will, maybe, if, projected, etc.

    Dave – you have my support. I’ll gladly put forward a short demonstrable list of recommendations to take to a select few conferences with you.


  3. Excellent stuff.

    This can apply to media tours as well. If you’re touting sustainable products, perhaps getting on several planes and sitting in towncars visiting press & analysts isn’t the most environmentally-friendly practice in the world. Would a phone call, video conference or WebEx presentation suffice?

  4. I cannot get over how many name badges you have there. Was this all from one year? If so, how many of these conferences actually were beneficial to attend. I attended 3 environmental conferences last year (Greenbuild, the Conference Board and CraigMichaels) and while the first 2 provided some good information, nothing came close to CraigMichaels conference because it had none of the promotional presentations that kill these conferences.
    Can anybody else recommend conferences that are worth the time out of the office…not to mention the carbon!

  5. Thanks for the feedback. Yes, those were all badges, most of them from 2007 (the full picture has more). I spoke at many of them and didn’t attend the whole thing. Overall I probably attended a piece of over 20 conferences.
    Regarding what conferences are best to go to, I don’t think my track record is better than anyone else’s. The one thing I will say is that I’ve had better luck at meetings that were run by groups that I already found good affinity in (in my case EPA Climate Leaders would be a good example).

  6. Timely article. As Manufacturing Sector Leader for a environmental consulting firm, we are currently reviewing conference opportunities to identify those we think will be of value to us and our clients. I was overwhelmed by the list of potential conferences provided by my staff. So, what conferences should we attend to keep on the forefront of sustainability and its inter-relationship to climate change, energy efficiency and fiscal responsibility?

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