Summit recap written by Adele Peters. Photos by Matt Savage, Lee Hwang, Adam Menter, and Raphael Varieras
There's no shortage of good ideas about sustainability and sustainable design, but many of these ideas never come to life. That challenge was one of the inspirations behind the creation of the GreenerMind Summit, an unconference for designers, activists, and other sustainability professionals in the Bay Area. The GreenerMind Summit's motto: just f*cking do it. We have good ideas, and now it's time to act.
"It's all about creating community and connections for people to do things," said Lora Menter, one of the Net Impact leaders who helped organize the event. "What we saw in our membership is this incredible body of people who are so talented, and so motivated. They just need a spark in the right direction, and they will change the world. It's almost like our role is just to give them the forum to do that."
The unconference was held in a remote redwood grove near Mendocino, California, over a weekend in June. Why Mendocino? The event organizers had been there before and "were struck by how that setting inspired such deep and meaningful conversation." There was also an appeal to getting away from technology. "There's no cell phones, no internet, no distractions," said Adam Menter, a co-organizer of the summit who works in the sustainable design program at Autodesk (and who happens to be Lora's brother). "The power of the unconference format is really connecting with the other people there around ideas, and the fewer distractions you can have in that process, the better it is and the deeper the connections that form. And the fact that we were all in one spot, we couldn't escape at night to go anywhere-- we're all hanging out around the campfire and getting to know each other on a personal level, which just accelerates the conversation even more."
The event drew a crowd of about 80, including industrial designers, futurists, tech entrepreneurs, and researchers. As attendees arrived, we were asked to fill out two small cards: first, our vision for the year 2020, and second, what we would personally do to help make that vision real. On Friday, we decided on the topics we'd delve into the next day; these included how to make repair sexy again, how to advance sustainable design in the Bay Area, and how to redesign products to last as long as the user experience. Throughout the days and into the wee hours of the nights, we shared problems, solutions, and beer. The sense of community grew quickly.
Design was a strong focus of the summit because Adam Menter deliberately invited a core group of designers to attend (the event was also co-sponsored by the San Francisco chapter of IDSA and partnered with Designers Accord). "When I see [designers] at events, the best conversations with those people are the ones that you have after the typical panel...about the specifics of what they're working on that are meaningful for someone in the field, versus a broader audience," Adam said. "So that's why we wanted to have a design track within the summit. To bring these people together, put them in a place where they can really connect around the things that they're passionate about, and the things that they're trying to figure out in their work."Since the event, meetings have continued to advance the conversation. One group that formed was an informal "think tank" of designers interested in sustainability, which shares concrete, detailed solutions for everyday problems, like how to design for disassembly or repairability, or how to source recycled plastic. "We started the conversation saying 'what do you, as practicing designers, want and need?'" Adam said. "Through our discussion, this seems to be the format and the topics that people were looking for." Another outcome from the conference were "mastermind groups," small groups of 6-8 people who support each other in taking action on their personal projects, from startup businesses to nonprofits.
I left feeling inspired, and others felt the same way. "The event truly felt like a meeting of the minds, where everyone involved was both approachable, and equally passionate about pushing the limits on what is possible in out world today," said Adam Reineck, an industrial designer at IDEO.
"In what feels like an age of distraction, going offline with smart passionate people to focus attention on achievable collaborative projects was inspiring," said Colin Mutchler, co-founder of LoudSauce, a social ad-buying service. "After co-creating dinner and moving conversations outside among the Mendicino redwoods, I began to believe that the killer apps of social culture are not Twitter and Facebook, but the campfire, the banjo, and great facilitation."
The GreenerMind Summit managed not only to facilitate useful and actionable conversation, but it also succeeded in connecting people in a way that an ordinary conference never could. "One of the reasons design is so powerful is because it has the possibility to design our culture, how we live together, how we use things," said Lora. "That's a lot of the reason why we incorporate it into our programming regularly. I think that at the conference we modeled a different culture for the weekend, and it made a big difference in the way people connected and the outcome."
Another event-- this time in the Bay Area-- is tentatively planned for December. Keep an eye on the GreenerMind Summit website for details.