(Thoughts about Net Impact 2010)

How do I begin to convey thoughts about an awe-inspiring whirlwind, intensive 60-hours of crazy travel, networking and education?

Well, I’ll just start at the beginning. I have never spoken at a large, national conference so I knew it was time for me to get the experience. Plus, it’s the kind of challenge that would push my professional growth to a new height. With that in mind, Justin and I worked with our PR guy to develop a workshop titled “Got 2020 Vision? Two Companies’ March Towards Zero Impact.“

imageLast month, we attended and presented our workshop at the 18th annual Net Impact conference, 2020: Vision for a Sustainable Decade. Held at the University of MichiganRoss School of Business in Ann Arbor, the two-day conference hosted 395 speakers in 131 sessions with over 2,500 attendees. Net Impact is a network of more than 20,000 new generation leaders committed to using the power of business to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world.

The conference itself encourages a collaborative approach to empowering leaders to drive business and the world towards a more sustainable future. It focuses current and future leaders in the areas of social innovation, corporate impact, energy & clean technology, international development, investing, natural resource and often, how all of these are greatly intertwined.

7 Out of 10 Americans Do What?

Net Impact has a tradition of digging deep into issues including a keynote moderated by Marc Gunther a contributing editor of FORTUNE Magazine withWilliam McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle and Kim Jeffery, the President and CEO of Nestlé Waters North America about disposable bottles and the US beverage industry. What is the impact? Seventy percent of Americans purchase bottled water. What is so astonishing as well is that the bottled water we all buy at our local store travels – from source to consumer at the maximum of 270 miles. From a sustainability standpoint, it is basically in our backyard. As Marc suggested, why can’t we just use a reusable bottle (BPA free that is) to drink out of?

There is 46 times more plastic than plankton in the Pacific Ocean. Since plastic is made from oil, as Bill McDonough said, “Burning oil is the stupidest thing we can do. Carbon should be put back into the ground.” Why do we keep buying bottled water? Yes, there is a time and a place for bottled/canned water. When a natural disaster disrupts the flow of clean water or in areas where water is polluted it is essential. But for the average American, bottled water is just another example of unconscious consumerism. If there was greater awareness about the journey of a bottle, could we change this bad habit?

From the discussion about bottled water to revolutionizing volunteerism withCatchafire or Taproot; the conference blasted me into the information overload stratosphere. Rather than being overwhelmed, I was totally engrossed in networking with other like-minded Millennials and learning about how collaboration can drive our society to a more sustainable future by 2020.

The coffee was definitely flowing (as well as local beer from Arbor Brewing Company) over late night conversations about creating positive change for business. The conversation about bottled water shifted to coffee, packaging and the great work Ben Packard and his team is doing at Starbucks. According to Ben, “eco-efficiency is not enough; we need visionary thought leaders and a collaborative community.”

imageA fascinating idea shared at the conference was from Matt Bauer of BetterWorld Telecom. He believes that by having 50% of American workers telecommute 50% of the time we can solve our climate issues quickly. I was reminded that this is not just his personal theory, but that Best Buy and others have made this amazing leap. At FMYI, like BetterWorld, we believe in the power of bridging geography, space and time. Our personal social networks empower teams in all sectors of our economy to innovate. Not only do we sell our product, but it also drives our business enabling us to work anywhere we can connect to the Internet with a PC, smart phone, or iPad. It was thrilling to see how FMYI was playing a part in enabling the paradigm shift and the new way of working that Matt discussed.

Sharing Our Vision for the Next 10 Years

With all these amazing ideas, Justin and I were excited to help others learn about our experiences working towards zero impact at a packed session. The Natural Step Framework provides a common thread and process for building a vision. From raising awareness to establishing benchmark baselines, we helped others learn how to get down to action.

With a changing work environment and a new generation coming into the workplace with new values (64% of incoming college students care about sustainability), I can really see the possibilities for ZERO IMPACT by 2020. So, again it was thrilling to see how FMYI is doing our part. How we are doing our best to be change agents by addressing the white elephants in the room and taking action to achieve our vision.

View more presentations from fmyi.

The FMYI 2020 Vision:
Zero impact operations: net zero servers, net zero office footprint, net zero commuting, 100% renewable energy, net zero waste
Zero impact features: crowdsource and tools for sustainable solutions to help achieve zero impact
Zero impact community: empower our stakeholders to be change agents to achieve zero impact in their community

A Word About Travel

So, going to a conference centered around sustainability probably makes you wonder how we got there, if we are seeking to have zero impact. Well, there are certain things like air travel that make it difficult. Even though we joked about riding the company bike across the country to Michigan, inevitably we jumped on an airplane (actually, a few due to travel complications). Since no major airline uses renewable energy, we work with OneEnergy Renewables to offset all travel with Climate Reserve Tonnes sourced from a landfill gas project in Utah. Of course, with Net Impact 2011 in Portland, we will be riding our bikes.

Thanks to Net Impact Central and the Ross School of Business Chapter, Justin and I made new friends and connections also trudging the road to zero impact. Most importantly, I came away even more convinced that by partnering and collaborating with other social enterprises committed to the triple bottom line (PeoplePlanet, Profit) we will create the change necessary for a more sustainable future.

Keep empowering for our 2020 vision,

P.S. A few other resources and blog posts from the conference:
• BetterWorld Telecom’s blog by Matt Bauer
• Herman Miller’s blog by John Kim
• Marc Gunther’s blog post “Glimpsing the future at Net Impact 2010”
• Net Impact conference in the news
• Net Impact conference on twitter (#NI10)