Several days have passed since the May 2 SPRNG Conference held by our Net Impact chapter, and we are still abounding with enthusiasm. Our group had been a part of a few projects since our inauguration last January, but we had not yet dreamt of organizing something of this caliber. When Ryan Seo, our group’s cofounder and vice-president of events, first suggested we put together a professional conference, the group responded with almost unanimous fervor. I distinctly remember the pride I had felt being a part of a group that was so full of energy and ambition to create something outstanding together, instead of lingering too long on our lack of experience.
We quickly organized into specialized teams and began dedicating our time to developing the theme, finding the speakers, and coordinating details of what would be the SPRNG Conference. If you can imagine a room full of highly driven and diverse individuals, then you can envision what Net Impact meetings resembled during this hectic time of collaboration. This was a period when my teammates and I were able to each shine in our own distinct way, and every member ended up contributing a piece of their individual ability and style to organizing the event. Together we overcame and laughed through blunders big and small while working toward a unified vision of quality.
Most of us didn’t cease working until that first bite of appetizers in the atrium of the UO White Stag building at 4:30 p.m. on May 2. The room was bustling with like-minded professionals and university students, all present because of a joint passion for sustainable business. Knowing that we were responsible for the enablement of this connection was just the first reward of the evening.
The conference was buzzing with the sustainability bug from the introductory reception to the final words of keynote Mark Edlen. Edlen had been rousing interest for the past few years as the CEO of the development company Gerding Edlen, responsible for more than 60 green projects in the western United States. And Edlen wasn’t the only invited speaker with an inspiring pedigree. Dave Frohnmayer, former UO president and versed in the kind of rhetoric that was able to impassion the room for the next few hours, initiated the conference podium with tales of Oregon’s sustainable past. A fellow Net Impact member, Alex Ayers, later mentioned that it was Frohnmayer’s reminder that our drive toward sustainability stems from Oregon’s distinct culture of caring for our lush surroundings. Our love for our environment produces caring individuals, and Ayers said that it is exactly this warmth and compassion that initially attracted him to Net Impact. Both Frohnmayer and Ayers rightly pointed out that this kindness and heart was a common thread amongst the SPRNG Conference attendees.
Marsha Willard, CEO of AXIS, carried the momentum with a presentation packed full of sustainability facts that I personally will be chewing on for a while. For example, I had no idea that only 6 percent of extracted raw resources get put into the final consumer product, with an astonishing 94 percent going to waste. Her expertise in consultation and sustainability education geared the audience toward the primary theme of the conference–”The Future of Sustainable Business.”
A panel made up of Andy Giegerich, Bill Campbell, Joe Whitworth, Regina Hauser, and Tim Smith–and led by moderator Sally Bell–examined past, present, and future trends in sustainable business. Speakers represented varying sectors from finance to media and highlighted the value of collaboration and out-of-the-box innovation for the success of the kind of businesses that place emphasis on societal gains over marginal growth. The clear passion of each panelist effortlessly translated to the room through a panel discussion that produced a compilation of quotable dialogue urging the audience to take part in using the power of business to create social change and lessen environmental footprints. Panelist Joe Whitworth, president of Freshwater Trust, reminded us that “while we cannot individually solve the problems of the world, we all hold a piece that is invaluable to the solution.” A colleague and I had a moment of mutual recognition for this power of teamwork as we stood together at the conference doors, looking into a room full of motivated and green-minded people facing our “SPRNG” logo.
Being a part of Net Impact, a group full of individuals striving for change, has affirmed what I’d like to dedicate my life’s work to. Our conference gave me yet another boost of hope and focus to stay dedicated to working for sustainability as I graduate from the University of Oregon this June. We managed to bring together true role models of sustainable business, and to me, they were verification that advancements toward a better world are possible through determination and a genuine love for every living thing in our communities. Each panelist pointed out that while work within the green arena is at times an uphill climb and a journey against the accepted grain, the work is always gratifying and worth the struggle. To a room full of college seniors, these words meant everything.
Olya Surits ’13