The Net Impact Conference is an annual conference that brings together academic and professional individuals that are interested in sustainability, corporate responsibility, social enterprise, and other similar initiatives. The 2013 Conference was held in Silicon Valley, CA from October 24-26, 2013.
For more information, videos, and a full list of speakers and presenters at this year’s conference, please visit https://netimpact.org/netimpactconference
It’s easy for conferences to become engulfed in layers of superficiality and cumbersome buzzwords – especially when it comes to topics like sustainability and social/environmental responsibility. But the Net Impact Conference did a great job at stripping away those layers. The diverse network of engaging speakers shared an honest account of their successes and failures – whether they were in small, independent startups or large, multinational corporations. It was a wonderful opportunity to see these topics told as dynamic stories – rather than business cases frozen in time. From these stories, the themes of disruption and adaptation were constantly apparent, and it became clear that a company’s success is not only assessed by their solutions, but how they make positive progress.
One panel that I attended featured Seth Goldman, the founder of Honest Tea (LINK: http://www.honesttea.com), who described the challenges of his small, organic beverage company in the wake of a recent buyout from a large, multinational company – Coca Cola. Although Honest Tea came from humble roots, it realized that it needed larger backing in order to provide a healthy choice to more consumers. However, with this new parent company came new challenges – and Honest Tea must constantly act as a thorn in the lion’s foot – advocating for better packaging and sourcing options for its products. As Vancouver residents, we are very fortunate to have a plethora of sustainable food choices available to us – something we may take for granted (as we are constantly tempted by the alluring convenience of pizza, subs, and sushi). We can all take those few extra steps, find a new café or restaurant, and engage those establishments in their stories.
Another panel that I attended featured, James Curleigh, President of Levi’s. It is easy to forget that a long-standing brand such as Levi’s has a lot of its success deeply connected to sustainability – long before sustainability was a major topic of discussion! Jeans were originally designed to be durable enough for gold miners, and have played a relevant part in every generation over the last 100 years. Jeans are often recycled and/or resold to other users, patched up, or made into cut-off shorts. Although we are often looking for new, innovative solutions to complex problems, Levi’s provided a good example that sometimes good solutions are already there. However, it is important to not be satisfied with one solution – we must continually explore new options to further our sustainable objectives. As such, Levi’s has developed a synthetic material made from recycled plastic beverage containers. We must work at ways to enhance those solutions, especially since there can be great financial or economic incentive to do so!
Other wonderful speakers included Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who described the challenges he faced as an environmental advocate working within a political, regulatory landscape. Also, Premal Shah (Founder of kiva.org), who elicited the need for continual adaptation and learning in the (relatively new) micro-finance/lending industry.
For me, this conference was an opportunity to realize what opportunities are available to us, what we can explore, and where we want to go. Passion and interest should not be limited by the people, the company, or the industry itself – but rather one’s own motivations. And if we work together and share our passions, we can make the greatest impact.
An avid traveler, Ryan’s experiences have taken him around the world – from volunteering in East Africa to facilitating creative problem solving workshops in Canada, the USA, India, and Germany. He is also the founder of a medical non-profit that runs sustainable and scheduled mobile clinics in rural Kenya.