Some of the greatest minds in green business recently convened in sunny southern California for Fortune’s Annual Brainstorm Green Conference. Inhabitat was on the scene to catch compelling talks by an incredible list of speakers including movers and shakers in the top Fortune companies as well as some predominant start-ups, nonprofit, and NGOs. The conference glossed over some of the usual sustainable fanfare, but surprisingly managed to dig a little deeper into today’s environmental issues and share some realistic insights. Read on for our full report!
The conference opened with a one-on-one between Lee Scott, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for Wal-Mart Stores and John Huey, Editor-In-Chief of Time Inc. Scott explained that Wal-Mart’s approach to sustainability was never altruistic — they have always been in search of better business propositions. It just so happened that doing better business was better for the planet. Although I have my own personal qualms with Wal-Mart, it’s hard to believe that more companies have not followed suit, taking-up the green flag in exchange for cost savings.
A panel entitled, What Do Environmentalist Want, brought together Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Michael Burne, Executive Director of the Sierra Club; David Yarnall sitting in for Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund; and Mark Terek, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy. All agreed that passing climate change legislation is a top priority to solving larger environmental issues, but they also agreed that it will be an uphill battle — if not one of the hardest political struggles they have ever faced. On the other hand, the panel estimated that there’s a 50% chance of passing some kind of legislation by this time next year.
One of the more interesting panels during the conference was a morning session entitled, The Myth of the Green Consumer. Contributing to the conversation was Erin Carlson, Director of Yahoo! For Good; Adam Lowry, CO-founder and Chief Greenskeeper of Method Products; Dara O’Rouke, Co-founder and Chairman of GoodGuide; and Adam Werbach, Global CEO of Saatchi & Sattchi S. The greatest take-away from the panel was the impending death of green washing (hooray!) as a marketing scheme. Werbahch even notes that he does not run green campaigns because they are a losing proposition. So what seems to be the impending trend? Transparency: all the way down to the product label. This happens to be one of the primary factors that has earned Method all of its success.
Next a bevy of green companies took center stage in the main room for a series of five-minute pitches in a segment called Great Green Ideas. I’m happy to note that Inhabitat had previously covered two of the conference favorites, including Mission Motors, and Lemnis Lighting. Other entrepreneurs included NuScale Power, Accelergy, and the Mother Nature Network.
The last half day of the conference was more design focused, offering an opening breakfast panel on a bold (or not so bold) new idea: zero net-energy buildings. After the breakfast session, Inhabitat favorite William McDonough, principal of William McDonough + Partners and co-author of Cradle to Cradle, shared his insights into whole systems design and thinking products through from beginning to end.
In a bit of an odd twist, Jennifer Fonstad, Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, was given 20 minutes on the stage (just as long as McDonough) to talk about her LEED Platinum Home in Silicon Valley, while debunking some of the relative myths surrounding green building. Her ultimate findings were that you can build a comfortable sustainable home on the same construction schedule and for around the same budget as a regular old home.
The closing keynote by Bill Ford, the Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company was optimistic of Earth’s Future. He left conference goers with the possibility of Jetson-like transportation that just so happens to be carbon free.
Ultimately the conference was a success – the networking opportunities alone encouraged the swapping of sustainable ideas and the building of business connections unmatched by other conferences. On the other hand, I would task conference planners with encouraging panelist to get a bit dirty by suggesting that they implement changes resulting in marketable differences over the course of one fiscal year. I would also like to see an opportunity for more for young entrepreneurs with sustainable business ideas to attend the conference (perhaps a competition with a scholarship?), so that more individuals from this incoming generation have the opportunity to join in on the conversation and offer their perspective and insights to this impressive group.