SXSW Eco Conference Brings Unique Perspectives to Environmental Challenges

Rice paddies in Indonesia. Part of a panel at the SXSW Eco conference, CI's Donnell Ocker Roy discussed the need for collaboration among farmers, governments and the private sector to feed the world's growing population. (© CI/Olivier Langrand)

SXSW (South by Southwest) — known primarily for its annual music festival — applied its creative, unique style to hosting the inaugural SXSW Eco conference last week.

SXSW Eco was jam-packed and quick moving with over 140 speakers ranging from activists, bloggers, CEOs, politicians, regulators, authors, scientists, private sector leaders and heads of major environmental organizations with discussion topics spanning diverse subjects ranging from renewable energy and green building to climate change and water conservation. This was not your typical international conference; in true SXSW spirit, the tone was feisty, animated and leaned more towards counterculture. The dress code may have been jeans and shorts, but the solutions and the dialogue were revolutionary.

You can see the full program here. Some of my favorite session topics included:

  • Texas and China: Non-Obvious Energy and Environmental Bedfellows
  • No More Coal: The Business Case for Ending an Industry
  • God, Guns and Greens: Forging Unlikely Allies in the Fight for Safe Foods
  • Innovating Conservation: From Youth Environmental Education to Financial Markets
  • Why it is Wrong to Wreck the World
  • Thinking Outside (and Inside) the Box: The Future of Sustainable Packaging

I served on a panel, “Growing the Good, Solutions from the Land,” along with A.G. Kawamura, farmer and former secretary of food and agriculture for California; Jason Mark, editor of Earth Island Journal; Daniel Morris, fellow at Resources for the Future; and Vicky Rateau, grow campaign manager for Oxfam America. We discussed the need for collaboration among smallholder farmers, the private sector and governments to ensure that we can feed a growing population without contributing further to climate change and ecosystem degradation.

We’ve all heard the magnitude of the challenge: a growing population, scarcity of water, food shortages, increased natural disaster and climate variability. SXSW Eco conference tackled these challenges with true-life solutions from disparate viewpoints precisely because it will take all of us working on the problem from our individual perspectives to really create a tipping point of action and results. SXSW Eco is bringing a different voice into the choir, magnified by a chorus of individual tweets and blogs that reveal the power that passionate individuals have to change the world.

Donnell Ocker Roy is the senior director for corporate relations in CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB).

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