Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cleveland Sustainability Conferences

In the last month I've been to two really interesting sustainability themed conferences in Cleveland.

The first was the Cleveland Sustainability Summit, which is an annual event hosted by the Mayor of Cleveland, as part of a ten year plan for a sustainable Cleveland with the vision of creating a ‘green city on a blue lake.’ At the summit I had the pleasure of meeting lots of sustainability professionals in higher education, NGOs, and the business sector, along with a host of individuals engaged at a grassroots community level. Since then I've been able to visit five campuses, meet sustainability managers and connect with a whole network of really lovely and interesting people.

The second sustainability conference was held last week at Case Western Reserve University. With a theme of Flourish and Prosper, the Third Global Forum on Business as an Agent for World Benefit included a wide range of visionary global business and thought leaders. I was inspired by presentations from the Nobel Laureate and former President of Finland, the CEO of Vitamix, media giant Arianna Huffington , Michael Braungart, author of Cradle to Cradle, and a range of business leaders, CEOs, entrepreneurs and philanthropists working to ensure that business is serving a greater social good beyond what we often consider to be its core mission of simply turning a profit.

This was a very inspiring conference to say the least. I expected to walk away with some new practical tools in my belt for delivering sustainability programs but I didn't expect the shift in perspective that came from totally re-framing sustainability as mere ‘maintenance and survival’ to sustainability as FLOURISHING! Let’s not just get by; let’s elevate our existence!

The conference offered numerous examples of companies who want their employees to thrive, who are demanding improvements from their supply chain and who are shifting away from short term models of thinking. Meanwhile they are developing new and innovative business models that reduce risk, build customer loyalty and increase profits. This is significant because global challenges like sustainability present great opportunities for individuals and businesses to not only do good, but to profit from solving problems.

It was mentioned several times at this conference that for the first time in history, this generation has the resources and the ability to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges - to eradicate extreme poverty and address the climate crisis, for example. This isn't seen as philanthropy, but rather seizing an opportunity to serve customers in way that doesn't compromise our very life support system.

I see it as rather fortuitous that these two conferences were happening in Cleveland right at this moment. Over the last few months, I've been considering whether a strategic career move might involve a shift away from the higher education campus sustainability sector into a more corporate or business centered environment. I would still maintain my key focus on sustainability strategy, communication and stakeholder engagement, but would simply apply them to a slightly different model of organizational change. The Case Western conference in particular offered me an opportunity to analyze in greater detail what it is I want to do and what the next big thing might be.

I've made MAJOR changes in my life recently. I remind myself that times of transition offer the opportunity for growth. While this can be terrifying at times, I've noticed that lately I've been feeling less anxiety about the search for what comes next. Instead I've been experiencing the joy and synergy that comes with being open to the next stage of life and to whatever it is the universe puts in front of me. With this openness, I've gone into these conferences and networking events knowing that who I need to meet will cross my path. The confidence and contentment that comes with this has been pleasing.

I feel poised to do some important work but I’m not quite sure what it is yet and that’s okay. I have been thrilled to learn of so many terrific sustainability initiatives happening across Cleveland on so many levels and I’m very excited to see where I fit into the sustainability sector here. The networking that has come about from these two conferences has been incredible. I have met really inspiring people and I’m starting to feel connected to the sustainability sector here in Cleveland.

And so I go about the delicate balance of designing my own future, appreciating the process, embracing the questions and the uncertainty, and waiting for the future to unfold as it should.

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