Friday, April 20, 2012

LLM Student, William Saunders, Represents the ENRGP Program at The 2012 Sustainable Opportunities Summit

William Saunders blogs about his experience at the recent Sustainability Summit.

The 2012 Sustainable Opportunities Summit dealt with issues at the forefront of our efforts to shift to a more sustainable way of life. The topics were balanced, dealing with the environment, natural resources, technology and the economy. The speakers were incredibly knowledgeable and passionate. It was clear they knew the stakes and were attacking the issues from all angles.

The conference kicked off with an inspiring keynote speech from John Viera from Ford Motor Company. Mr. Viera talked about the innovations going on at Ford and in the state of Michigan. Ford is taking responsibility for the way they run their operations, but also the way they interact with the community. Ford is looking at everything from recycling to human rights to using water and other natural resources sustainably. By the end of his key note, the tone had been set -- sustainability encompasses everything we do as individuals or as a corporation.

The conference was then broken up into “tracks” which addressed different topics relating to sustainability issues. The first session I attended was titled: The Intersection of Information Technology and Energy Efficiency. Most interesting, were SmartGrids and outsourcing data storage to servers like the “clouds” offered by companies such as Amazon and Apple. Clouds are also available for businesses. One of the major concerns with both types of innovation is privacy. All the panelists stressed that these companies recognize the implications for their reputation if privacy is breached. A yet unanswered concern involves: who owns the data?

As David Gold from Clean Technology Investments discussed, there has been a marked pull-back in investment in renewable and clean technologies since the economic downturn in 2008. Mr. Deora, however, pointed to some of the efforts currently taking place in Colorado. Specifically, he highlighted the focus on transportation fuels, such as compressed natural gas, identifying and overcoming market challenges to facilitate public-private partnerships for project financing, and the development of the Innovation Resource Portal – which is sort of a one-stop-shop for problem solving and identifying gaps in the energy market.

The next session was on the Future of Water. One of the most important aspects of sustainability was discussed during this hour: the collision of food, energy, and water. Agriculture uses about 80% of our water here in Colorado and globally around 70%. But some studies have shown we may have a 40% global shortfall in water by as early as 2030. Our public water policy needs to catch up to reality. There is a nexus between food, energy, and water and this lies at the core of our ability to achieve global sustainability.

The fourth session I attended addressed Green Jobs in the Colorado Economy. There was a lively debate on how to define a “green job.” The liveliness was certainly due to the presence of Hunter Lovins from Natural Capitalism Solutions and her outspoken opinions on how we go about creating green jobs in our local economy. She was a staunch supporter of implementing renewable energy with Colorado and convincingly argued that companies who focus on sustainability are more profitable.

The final session of the day that I attended was perhaps the most interesting. Aaron Dignan, CEO of Undercurrent and author of the book Game Frame gave an innovative and groundbreaking talk about “Gamification.” Mr. Dignan posed the question: why do we show increased focus and concentration when playing a video game or filling out an NCAA bracket, but go through the motions and suffer from a lack of motivation in real life? He argues that games offer structure and satisfaction that we don’t get in our real life experiences. If businesses can find ways to create these qualities, employees would be able to focus on their work in much the same way they obsess with Angry Birds or Call of Duty. The result would be a revolution in the way we think about real life and the common tasks that are completely unfulfilling in work or everyday life.

The day ended with good beer, tasty snacks and plenty of opportunities for networking and mingling outside the conference rooms. I’ve certainly come away from this conference more educated on some of our most pressing issues regarding sustainability efforts. And I met plenty of smart, dedicated, and innovative people along the way.