What Does Sustainable SXSW Look Like?

Volts (and a Cruze) Await Drivers at Austin Convention Center

South by Southwest, the annual geek-fest in Austin, is arguably the premier interactive media conference in the world. Pretty much every recent online innovation from Twitter to LOLcats had its roots or launch during SXSW. Nontheless, sustainability has always been a bit of a side-track and not an obvious part of the core message of the event.

Things are looking up in many ways year: The notoriously useless tote bags filled with junk mail have been replaced with an electronic option called SXswag. The Chevy Volt “recharge lounge” has returned – this time with dozens of Volts available for test drives. Nokia has sponsored a “green zone” featuring a solar powered cell-phone charging station. Not to be outdone, GE has set up an old fashioned carousel which is, naturally, powered by GE’s thin-film solar panels.

Most importantly, however, the “greater good track” panel series has been consistently packed to capacity. A decent spectrum of social entrepreneurship and non-profit oriented workshops and conversations are underway. The demand and enthusiasm is palatable – and for good reason: like a more accessible version of TED, SXSW has always drawn the most interesting and bright minds in technology.

But the greater good panel series is a minor one. Why isn’t addressing sustainability even more obvious? Why isn’t sustainability the default conversation in the halls? Questions about energy consumption, crowd-sourced philanthropy, and radical corporate transparency ought to be core components of the greater SXSW enthusiasm. A few Volt test drives and solar chargers are great, but what of the deeper conversation about evolving the very nature of our economy towards sustainability?

Furthermore, with 40% more attendees than last year, getting around, getting into networking events, and just finding time to plan your day has become a major headache – with as many as 40 panels going simultaneously. The phrase “jumped the shark” is being uttered in the hallway, and many folks have talked casually about the need for a new, splinter conference that makes deeper sustainable thinking vis a vis technology the core priority.

Can SXSW continue to grow “the greater good” without becoming too big to manage?

What do you think? Come join us Monday night at Clive Bar for our Sustainable Media Happy Hour and let us know!

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.