The “Impact” of the 2009 Net Impact Conference: Suggested Improvements

event-net-impactThis year’s Net Impact Conference was a big success. It was an incredible gathering of many current and future leaders in the sustainability field. That’s why the following bones that I have to pick are important to address – if we can’t get it right, who will? (I love you Cornell and Net Impact ;)

  1. Carbon footprint of the conference: Cornell University in upstate New York is a beautiful location. However, it’s also very remote. To get there from most locations in the U.S. requires at least one connection and driving. The carbon emissions from flights are enormous and most of this is in take-off and landing. Cornell, we love you, but could we have future conferences in hub-ier cities?
  2. Waste at the conference: There were some instances of easy-to-interpret bins for compost, recycling and regular trash (for me, the ones that work are those that you can easily identify without crouching down or having to decipher which one is which). Color, shape and large type are all key to being able to do the right thing whilst having a conversation with your friend or colleague. Some were the right kind, but many of them were strange over-sized paper bags that all looked the same and didn’t stand up straight (one fell over during a social event, covering a woman’s leg in melted Ben & Jerry’s!). A waste strategy can’t have inconsistencies like these, because once it gets out of hand, it’s all mixed up. Net Impact, can we get this right next time?
  3. Posterity: It is a crime not to record such a gathering of great minds and thinkers. There were more than 120 sessions with some great insights and it was all lost to the halls of Cornell (except the keynotes)! I say that we should be “open source” so that this knowledge gets shared as much as possible. Plus, it might have given an option to those who didn’t want to commit to the financial or environmental costs of the conference. This is easy; every iPhone has a voice recorder if video is not possible.

I invite you all to comment on this post and forward to those who attended the conference, so that we can get it better next year. To your credit, Net Impact, you put on one of the finest conferences around – sustainability professionals take note. And, to anyone who seemed cliquey during social events – get out of your comfort zone and mingle more next year (you know who you are) ;) …after all, this event is all about community.

Matthew Savage is the founder of Savage Sustainability, a sustainability and marketing strategy consultancy that helps companies grow and innovate, while achieving sustainability targets. He has 10 years of demonstrated experience in implementing complex solutions for large corporations and start-ups. You can follow more of his thoughts at or follow him on

2 responses

  1. I thought I’d provide some behind-the-scenes insight / alternative perspective to the comments above.

    1) While Cornell may seem remote, it is actually within a 6 hour driving distance of a huge number of business schools and major cities. (Boston, NYC, DC, Philly, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Pittsburg…) It’s easy to suggest that holding the conference to a more traditional hub would be a better option, but I think there are few locations that are actually this central to the conference audience! A side benefit of being in a remote location – people stuck around till the end of the conference instead of jumping ship on Saturday. And they networked more. Having attended the event at Wharton, I know that many people opted to spend the evenings visiting with friends we had living in the city in lieu of the conference social events.

    2) I think most large institutions are still trying to figure out how to get this right. Good luck to the next team in trying to figure out how best to scale up their waste management to handle the extra 2000+ people on campus.

    3) Recording sessions was explored this year, but it was deemed too expensive to be feasible with the current budget. As video conferencing becomes more common, hopefully this will be easier to accomplish with existing infrastructure.

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