Austin, Texas: Ready to drive green business innovation

For me, one of the memorable lines at last week's Green Innovation for Business Unconference (aka "GIBU") in Austin was from 3M's Phyllis Cheatum, who announced in her opening remarks, "I'm uncomfortable.  At 3M we don't show up to meetings without agendas (like this one).  But discomfort drives innovation."

The nearly 100 green business innovators who filled 3M's Innovation Center on that warm September morning also embraced discomfort in the name of innovation.  Not only did they collectively fill in the blank agenda wall and volunteer to lead sessions on the fly, but they spent the next eight, high-energy hours tackling some of the toughest, most uncomfortable business-sustainability issues we face today:

  • How do we shift attitudes and, most importantly, behavior of consumers, employees and executives?
  • How should we engage employees, and support and sustain the champions within our companies?
  • In a tough economic climate, what are the creative ways we can build the business case for sustainability initiatives?
  • What does it take to drive green technology adoption?
  • How do we set standards and select metrics?  How should we define what it means to be "green"?
  • How can we market "green" so that we are sure we aren't "green-washing"?

The two big "ah-ahs" for this blogger, after participating in all the GIBU events this year (in DC, Boston and Silicon Valley, in addition to Austin), were these:

First, the right people – with the necessary talent, passion and connections – are behind this movement, both in Austin and the other regions.  In Austin, the participants were sustainability managers, engineers, product developers and operations gurus from nearly all the local heavy-hitting companies (3M, AMD, Austin Energy, Dell, Freescale Semiconductor, IBM, National Instruments, etc.).  They were joined by entrepreneurs, government representatives, consultants of all stripes, nonprofits and the leadership of key local networks—such the Austin EcoNetwork and Net Impact Austin.

Second, though the GIBU series was designed to be regional, the big, uncomfortable challenges participants tackled in Austin were very much the same as those debated by their counterparts in DC, Boston and Silicon Valley.  Link up these networks, and we've got some real fire power with which to overcome obstacles and drive green business innovation, nationally and internationally.

For the complete agenda and session notes, visit the Green Innovators wiki.  Or search #GIBU09 in Twitter to get a taste of the immediate reactions and other "ah-ha" moments.

And stay tuned for news on the next iteration of the GIBU series for 2010.  Subscribe to this blog if you'd like to get or stay involved.