Yesterday Andy and I attended the Sustainable Brands Conference 2012 Sustainability Expo, which featured dozens of companies and brands from around the world who are making a commitment to sustainability. As in my last post, these companies included world leaders in sustainability (World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic) but also commercial companies interested in making a difference (Toshiba, Office Depot). Everyone there had someone who was knowledgeable in the company’s sustainable initiatives and was able to speak with us about how their company is making a difference in their own practices as well as encouraging their customers to ask for more sustainability (whether that was in products or services).
We collected a small stack of business cards from the industries that are most relevant to home remodeling and developed a number of contacts who we believe will offer mutually beneficial skills and products. One such contact is Trina Solar, a local-yet-worldwide solar company who will soon be breaking into the residential market, but there will be more on that to come later (hint hint, Southern California: you’re the perfect place for solar roofing!). We also had great conversations with The Forest Stewardship Council, Planet Reuse (again, more on those to come later!), and Toshiba, who is launching a very clever campaign to not use a single sheet of paper for one day on October 23, 2012.
Plus, I don’t know how there could have been a better location. First, the Paradise Point Resort is essentially its own mini island in San Diego’s Mission Bay (tourist destination to the max). Since there were exhibitors, speakers and attendees coming from literally all over the world representing twenty-something countries there seems no better place than on the beach in San Diego. In fact, very few of the exhibitors we spoke with were based in Southern California, which means the majority of the people there were traveling a great distance just to meet and talk with other people about how we can collectively become more sustainable. But being literally right on the water as it was, I couldn’t help but notice the plastic bottles and product wrappers trapped in the tiny waves lapping at the edge of the hotel, tangled in bay reeds. Those plastic bottles could have been recycled (perhaps into a pen!) and those wrappers should have been disposed of properly.
Another concept I’ve briefly touched on, although not in such eloquent and exact words, is something a speaker representing BASF, a global chemical company, said: “There will never be a truly sustainable product, only a more sustainable product; sustainability is not a destination, but a never-ending journey.” And this is a concept I feel that many people still do not fully understand. Edmund Burke, among other things a philosopher in the time of the American Revolution, said, “nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” This, I believe, sums up the sustainability argument and the whole point of the Sustainable Brands Conference 2012 quite nicely. We are constantly striving to become more sustainable as a planet, species, community and individual, and it’s that last part that gets so often forgotten.
Individuals are constantly making the mistake of believing what I do won’t matter; we do this at voting time, we do this when tossing a cigarette butt out of the car window, and we do this when choosing to not recycle or not buy responsibly harvested wood or free trade coffee. The idea that we’re only people, and I am only one person, is so prevalent that it’s overwhelming. Unfortunately, when we all believe this at one time or another we become a society of people who believe we do not make a difference. Is this how we want to live? Do we want to live together or individually believing nothing we do makes a difference at all?
At the end of the day, and the end of the Sustainability Expo 2012, I learned that the individual is powerful. Of course, the group is far more powerful, but isn’t a group just a collection of like-minded individuals? For the rest of the week more than 1,500 like-minded individuals will convene on this mini-island to learn what they can do to be more sustainable as an individual, but they’ll take what they learn and apply it to their corporations and make an even bigger change. Sustainability is not just a popular trend, it’s a necessity, and sooner or later these types of expos and conferences will die out because they’re unnecessary once everyone everywhere adopts the standards being set today. Always strive to be better.
Check out our Sustainable Brands ’12 video to get a quick recap of what we saw -