Green innovators accelerate change at DC's GIBU 09

What do you get when you throw 100 green business innovators in a room for eight hours with no formal agenda?

We found out this week at the Green Innovation for Business Unconference (or GIBU 09), the first event in a series being convened by EDF and Ashoka this summer. This gathering in Washington, D.C., held at Google's offices, brought together a cross-section of sustainability innovators from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The "un-agenda"

Using the "unconference" format, GIBU 09 offered no formal speeches or scheduled panels. Instead the participants were presented with a challenge for the day: "How can we accelerate the diffusion of the best ideas–at the pace and scale needed to outrun the environmental problems we face?"

To the surprise of many unfamiliar with the "unconference" approach (this blogger included), the participants quickly built out a robust agenda of impromptu discussion groups and brainstorming sessions on the topics of greatest interest to them.

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The sessions I joined included:

* Stephan Sylvan of the U.S. EPA's National Center for Environmental Innovation facilitated a brainstorming session on the role government can plan in greening products and spurring green innovation.
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* Tom Dawkins of Ashoka, led a conversation on social media for sustainability which delved into the question of "How can social media best support green innovators?"

* Steve Ma of Live Green, Wendy Reed, an independent social marketing consultant, and Elizabeth Seeger of EDF's Corporate Partnerships Program convened a large discussion group on behavior change, covering both individual (consumer) behavior and organizational behavior.

Other active topics included the future of Green IT and the role of certification programs.

Next steps

During the final wrap-up session of the day, participants identified several thorny topics that warrant further conversation and potentially the creation of short-term or ongoing discussion groups:

* Setting benchmarks, standards, certifications, etc.
* Democratizing green: How to make it affordable and accessible?
* Sustainable consumption: What does that look like? What will it take to consume fewer resources?

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What didn't work so well at the first GIBU 09? Several voiced concern that there wasn't enough diversity of opinion in the room–that we were all "green" people (regardless of whether we're from the nonprofit or private sectors) who basically agree with each other. Next time, we need to do a better job of pulling in divergent perspectives.

All agreed that each event in the GIBU series should build on the discussions of the previous session. Past and current participants should stay engaged via the GIBU wiki or #GIBU09 on Twitter.

The next GIBU will be held in Boston on Monday, June 22, followed by Silicon Valley on July 21 and Austin on September 10. To register and learn, more click here.

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