Being Green + Being Profitable: Opportunity Green 2009

November 11, 2009

Having read all of the exciting press coming off last year’s Opportunity Green conference, I was looking forward to attending this year’s event, held in sunny Los Angeles, CA.  Heralded as one of the top green business conferences in the industry, OG09 promised to be a forum to gather with leaders of the business world to discuss not just our shared idealism towards a more sustainable planet but our determination to succeed in a green economy.

My excitement on the front end was met with some disappointment the day of the actual conference and I’m sad to say that for the most part, I was underwhelmed.  The opening keynote included a talk by Chris Jordan, an artist famous for his portraits of waste in mass culture.  While I admire Chris’ work and passion for revealing the consequences of our modern world, I tend to get more annoyed than inspired during those types of lectures.  He showed photographs depicting our daily use of plastic cups and the tragic death of albatross on Midway Island due to significant plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean.  In fact, he played a 6 minute long video showing carcass after carcass of albatross that had mistaken plastic for food and died with massive quantities of it in their bellies.

Sad, right?  Of course.  It’s horrible.   But did I travel across the country to be shown pictures (that I’ve seen many, many times – it’s a popular image for green conferences) accompanied with severely depressing violin music?  Not really.  I’m in this room because I am all too aware this is a problem.  I’m in this room because I am afraid of what the future looks like for my children and their children and I want to solve this problem, or at least try.  I’m too motivated and there’s too little time to sit around and grieve, which is what Chris suggested we need to do for our planet.

We don’t need to grieve.  We absolutely need to acknowledge what we have done to this planet.  But like any problem in life, dwelling on how wrong it all is begins to sound like broken record.  Yes! It’s wrong.  How do we make it right?  Grief will not heal us.  I am sure of this.

At any rate, the conference had its moments of redemption for sure.  My favorite panel was Modern Storytelling with Annie Leonard of Story of Stuff and Jonah Sachs of Free Range Studios.  If you haven’t seen Story of Stuff, you should go watch it right now.  Annie is a brilliant storyteller who spent 2 decades researching the materials economy and uncovering what happens to all of our stuff throughout its lifecycle. Jonah and his team at Free Range helped Annie turn her research into a smart, witty and informative 20 minute documentary with an attempt to illuminate some of the issues within the materials economy including massive waste and overconsumption.

Working in communications, I appreciate Annie’s no BS approach to tackling a problem and presenting information to people who have predisposed conceptions about the world.  As she advises, “talk to people where they’re at – not where you’re at.”  The discussion centered around the concept of authentic communication, opening up dialogues and not trying to control the conversation once it’s out.

She closed the session with this piece – “Change is inevitable, the question is whether it will be by design or by default.”  It is the perfect summary of the choices we have now, the decisions we make towards a more sustainable world and what we need to keep at front of mind when we approach this revolution.

While I met some very interesting people at OG09 and was thrilled to see Annie Leonard speak live, I left with an overall feeling that has accompanied me at the end of many green centric conferences or expos – concerned at our ability talk about the problem in depth but our inability to provide comprehensive, deep solutions.  Right now, green conferences tend to include those of us who are dark green – we believe it, we know we’ve got to change, we’ve dedicated parts of our lives to so.  While seeing and hearing stories about the breadth of the problem can be inspiring, too much of it becomes time consuming and ineffective.  We need an active campaign, not a passive one.  I want to attend a conference that starts that campaign.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter