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Why is there a Big Green Disconnect at SXSW?

| Friday March 26th, 2010 | 1 Comment

ban-startup-fridaySometimes being neck-deep in the green business realm, you forget that the connections that make sense to you are foreign to others. Such was the case at the interactive (read: Geek Mecca) component of the South By Southwest interactive media conference, or as it’s known, SXSW.

But if Triple Pundit can help it, that will continue to change. Together with Ecopop TV and CREE Lighting, 3p hosted a Sustainable Media Happy Hour event at SXSWi, gathering major names in the realm, and building momentum for more sustainability to be a part of future editions of SXSW. GOOD Magazine hosted the social entrepreneur focused Good Capitalist Party.

And yet, from what I heard and read, it’s still a largely external component there. Sure, there were the showy retro futuristic solar powered electric bike chargers and composting/recycling stations along with the trash, but the few green related panels were under attended and often rudimentary. Brooke Farrell of RecycleMatch (disclosure: a client of mine) put it best when she wrote, ”Unfortunately, preaching how easy it is to give up your plastic water bottles to a room of canteen-carrying believers was a missed opportunity.”

LED lighting company CREE said of the Sustainable Media event, “It was eye opening to see how little many of these folks knew about LED lighting, especially considering it was a group of people who care about sustainable living.”

What’s going on here?

Farrell may be on to something when she writes, “Inspiring the tech audience is going to require much more relevant content instead of content imported from the green and sustainability circuit.”

What might that look like? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this. One possibility is illustrating how the effective use of technology can make an impact on the environment, instead of nagging at them about their energy use.

Farrell’s company, RecycleMatch, did a good job of doing this. As the only green company to compete in the Microsoft Bizspark Accelerator contest, the place where Twitter and Foursquare first made their name, RecycleMatch went an alternate route than the buzz heavy, business model vague iPhone focused startups prevalent there, instead offering a business oriented solution to divert the 214 million tons of non hazardous materials that companies are paying to landfill each year.

Framing their business in a way this audience could related to, Chad Farrell said “Some say we’re the eBay of recycling. But really, we’re more like eHarmony.” Then he backed it up with case studies about major corporations they’d connected to others, finding unexpected reuses for materials.

After advancing to the final three, it was interesting to watch the tech-centric judges like Guy Kawasaki and eLance CEO Fabio Rosati, initially wrestle with, then get the value of, what RecycleMatch is doing: saving companies time, money and reputation capital by enabling more efficient upcycling and recycling of their waste.

Judging by audience reaction, and articles in tech opinion leader ReadWriteWeb saying they, “…hope RecycleMatch takes off solely so it can help save the world,” it’s clear that RecycleMatch proved that the sustainability can be relevant to the tech audience. And, that technology can be leveraged to have a positive impact on the environment.

Readers: How do you see better making the connection between the tech and green business realms? What are some good examples you’re seeing out there?

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media.


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