The SXSWeco conference was created two years ago to bring the popularity and cache of the original SXSW to sustainability, climate change and corporate social responsibility issues.
That first year the keynote was given by the inspiring Mark Tercek of The Nature Conservancy, who advocated the bridging of worlds between NGOs and business to spread the word, move the needle and really affect change.
However, among attendees, there was an undercurrent of frustration when the conversation turned toward the attitude of people outside the “green” community and their lack of interest in the looming crisis of climate change and dwindling resources. At the time, EDF’s Andrew Hutson stated, “We’ve failed. We’ve failed to convince the general public to worry about climate change.”
It’s two years later, and the tide is turning. Climate change and resources are still critical issues, but the tone of SXSWeco 2013 is vastly different. As Alison Monahan noted, gloom and doom does not sell products. She writes, “What does motivate [consumers]? Empowerment, efficacy, and fun.” This shift leads more consumers to change their behavior and embrace green principles for a variety of reasons, not only the strict environmental ones. The wider acceptance of green principals among a larger group of consumers made the mood of the conference much more upbeat and hopeful – there was something we could do to affect change now.
In her keynote speech, founder Robin Chase, talked about the popularity of Zipcar: consumers recognize a useful service and use it as such, not necessarily with environmental concerns foremost in their minds, but practical ones. No matter the reason, each Zipcar takes 15 personal use cars off the road. Chase credits the internet for the boom in sharing popularity.
“The internet enables us to share things easily. People are able to rent a car in 30 seconds. Smartphones are the platform for participation, apps are the tools for participation.”
Since 2011, the sharing economy has exploded and appealed to many consumers, especially in this difficult economic climate. Fellow keynote speaker Adam Werbach talked about how his new company, Yerdle, is helping people share more items, give away unused items and cut down on their purchased items. Werbach polled a San Francisco neighborhood, asking residents to estimate the number of items in their homes they would like to get rid of and, at first glance, they answered perhaps 15-20. When he returned later to photograph said items, “almost invariably they would have 200-300 items laid out.” Werbach’s goal is to reduce the number of consumer items people need to buy by 25 percent.
B Lab’s Jay Cohen Gilbert talked about the growing number of companies that are becoming certified B Corps and his organization’s role in educating and facilitating that transformation. Gilbert estimates that more than 15,000 companies worldwide are making use of their consultative services and guidance.
There are two ways to get the message across – shame and blame, or celebration and reward. Both are necessary. We want to shine a light on change, point to tangible businesses that are making a difference, not just anecdotally, but third party verified. We choose to celebrate, shame and blame, not what we are suited for,” Gilbert said.
Overall, participants and speakers seem to be much more hopeful during this third SXSWeco outing. People are not lamenting about how the rest of society is not recognizing the importance of using green products or changing their behavior, but came to share their success stories and their lessons learned. Instead of an undercurrent of frustration, there is more excitement and forward-thinking.