How to Choose Your Sustainability Conferences

EasyJetBy David Witzel and Greg Andeck, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Innovation Exchange

David Witzel serves as Director and Greg Andeck is the Manager, Corporate Partnerships of the EDF Innovation Exchange, a dynamic global network facilitating the widespread adoption of environmental innovation in business. The EDF Innovation Exchange is also a 3p sponsor.

Our colleague Victoria Mills recently said, with exasperation, “There used to be just a handful of sustainability conferences. We could make phone calls to a couple people and know who was doing what where. Now they are everywhere!” And it is true.  Triple Pundit alone lists seven events it is going to in the next two months. In many ways, this is a nice problem to have, as it reflects a burgeoning interest in the topic of business and the environment.

Our small EDF Corporate Partnerships team will attend 40 or more events in the next year (here’s our calendar).  Of course we track our carbon production and buy offsets, but conference costs exceed just their environmental impact. They cost us days of work time, stress on families, plus the financial burdens of registration, room and travel. On the other hand, we think attending face-to-face events is valuable.  Our work depends on partnering and coordinating with other organizations – our small team can’t have the impact we want all by ourselves. Meeting face-to-face is still an excellent way to understand common interests, build trust, and make things happen.

So what is a frugal non-profit to do?  A few of us sat down this week to talk “conference strategy.”  Some of our conclusions were:

  • Industry: Pay particular attention to industry-specific events that are relevant to projects we have underway. We’re working with private equity firms, vehicle fleets and building owners and tenants, so will look for events that bring together those groups. In fact, Jason Mathers just posted a list of fleet-focused events coming up in the next month.
  • People: We also tend to work with executive management in large firms – a high-value, but tough to meet group. However, they do congregate at some high profile business events, so we will consider participating in conferences such as:
    • Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics (March 3-5 ,2010)
    • Fortune Brainstorm Green (April 12-14, 2010)
    • Greener World Media Greener by Design (the last one was in May)
  • Geography: We think it is important to know what is happening in our regions. We have corporate partnership staff in Boston, Washington, DC and San Francisco, so we are constantly on the lookout for events in those areas. This week, I attended a talk by Andrew Winston hosted by SBNoW (the Sustainable Business Network of Washington).
  • Atmosphere: We don’t want to be limited by only learning from our sectors though so are making an effort to go to a number of “mind-blowing” conferences – events where we’ll hear ideas or meet people we wouldn’t have otherwise run into. We hope the crossing sectors will help spur innovation. Some candidates in this category include the always interesting TED, Social Capital Markets and the Personal Democracy Forum.
  • Throw Your Own: Finally, we’re helping organize new events. I recently got back from Austin, TX where we helped organize the fourth Green Innovation for Business Unconference at 3M. Almost 100 people attended, including folks from Dell, AMD, 3M, IBM and Austin Energy. We expect to be helping with at least eight more events in the coming year and in several new cities.

To try to get more out of our event attendance we’re doing a few things.  First, we’re announcing the events we will attend. We want to make sure people can find us for networking and information sharing. Second, we’re maintaining a public calendar of events that we think are interesting in the “sustainability meets business” space.

How does your organization prioritize which events to attend?  Please comment below on events you’ve found particularly valuable, and let me know if you have events we should add to the calendar.

Hope to see you on the conference circuit.

Previous 3p posts from Greg Andeck can be found here. Image credit: Dave Adams on Flickr.

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3 responses

  1. I highly recommend the Green Festivals as a consumer event – they are really fun with great speakers and a fantastic exhibit halls. They’re the biggest green festivals and also one of the oldest, having been around for 8 years. The SF show is definitely the best show to go to, as they recently increased it to 3 days from 2 because the show had been so packed in previous years. Check ’em out at

    (full disclosure: I work for Seven-Star, which produces the Green Festivals. But, I was a big fan of them even before I started working with them. . . one of the main reasons I took the job!)

  2. So, are frequent flier miles sustainable? That is a lot of traveling in a year, racking up a lot of miles presumably, begetting more air travel. I use my miles for family vacations, “offsetting” the burdens of being away from home. Probably not as sustainable as donating to a non-p, but I’m ok with that.

  3. Don’t forget some of the great events we’ll be at this year – and think local. If you’re in LA, Opportunity Green is going to be a really fun time this November. If you’re in SF and worried about your carbon footprint, you can join me and other green business leaders as we bike hwy 1 from San Francisco. More info here. –

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