If You Happen To Be In Austin

An expected 3,000 attendees are gathering in Austin, Texas, for SXSW Eco next week. Photograph: Austin CVB

An expected 3,000 attendees are gathering in Austin, Texas, for SXSW Eco next week. Photograph: Austin CVB

We normally think of technology or music when we think of Austin, or SXSW.  This even provides more to think about with regard to either of them. Thanks to the Guardian for letting us know about it:

Activists and industrialists might be like oil and water, but 3,000 of these strange bedfellows are gathering together in Austin, Texas, to discuss oil and water at SXSW Eco 2013 next week. Now in its third year, the annual conference aims to encourage cross-sector collaboration between professionals in business, government, academia and nonprofits on topics ranging from policy to consumer engagement.

The point is to mix it up. “We are bringing those in the energy field together with those in the water conservation and agriculture industries,” says Chris Sonnier, program manager for the conference. “We are putting those working in sustainable design in discussion with scientists and accountants.”

Why? To pave the way for attendees to make unexpected connections. As Sonnier puts it: “Innovation is born of diversity and leads to unexpected business collaborations. Ultimately, it is those business collaborations that we’d like to see. When we hear about new businesses emerging where the founders met at SXSW Eco, we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do.”

The Green Army 2.0 initiative is the result of one such collaboration. Leading up to the 2012 conference, Tim Mohin, director of corporate responsibility at Advanced Micro Devices, said he was comparing notes on sustainability and employee volunteerism efforts with people from Dell,Whole Foods Market and other Austin-based companies when he had “one of those forehead-slapping moments”.

They realized that “if we combine our efforts, we could field a veritable army of volunteers that could accomplish amazing things for the local community”, he said. AMD debuted its “crowdsourcing volunteerism” model – with Dell, Whole Foods, the City of Austin, Austin Community College, the University of Texas at Austin and Keep Austin Beautiful – at last year’s conference.

The collaborators are bringing the concept back this year with another creek-cleaning, tree-planting event. (AMD also issued a white paper to help others to replicate similar collaborative events in other cities.)

Cross-sector collaboration is critical to systemic change, particularly in industries – like energy and water – that require alignment of disparate stakeholders in order to advance development. In the case of electricity, for example, those stakeholders include utilities, renewable-energy equipment manufacturers and distributors, regulators and customers.

Getting consumers to curb energy use when energy prices are low has challenged utility executives, policy makers, startups and even global conglomerates for decades. In the past few years, two schools of thought have developed: the “behavioralists” believe that consumers will reduce power consumption given the right information. By contrast, the “automatons” believe that automation is the only way to get around short attention spans and the rapid decision-making required. Conference panelists on both sides will discuss these ideas – and their inherent complexities – to try to find ways to engage both customers and businesses in boosting energy efficiency.

Concrete changes in transportation, buildings, electricity and industry can’t happen without leaders casting a broad vision for constituencies across America. Reinventing Fire, a book by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute, identifies nearly 200 synergistic actions – many requiring cross-sector collaboration – needed to replace oil and coal in the US by 2050 while growing the economy. In the electricity sector, for example, utilities will have to build alliances and seek approval for prompt regulatory reforms to align investors’ incentives with customers’ incentives, according to the book.

For an example of an area where cross-sector collaborations are already bearing fruit, consider the case of electric-vehicle charging stations. Building an EV charging infrastructure – with charging stations at offices, shops, schools and government buildings – requires partnerships between all of those businesses and agencies, utilities and tech providers…

Read the whole article here.

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