SXSW Eco and the Pursuit of Weird 0

Michael Parrish DuDell | Tue Oct 11 2011 |

A Word from MPD Talking with Michael Parrish DuDell, our Managing Editor

Take three steps off the plane at Austin International Airport and you’ll be greeted by two things: the tangy smell of Texas barbecue and at least one piece of merchandise sporting the motto “Keep Austin Weird.”

Known for its eclectic and variegated vibe, Austin is the exception to the rule—the bold and phosphorescent star in an already Lone Star state. It’s fitting, then, that Austin is home to SXSW Eco: a three-day conference dedicated to finding innovative and pragmatic solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Such a conference may not sound particularly “weird” in today’s society, but 20 years ago the idea of bringing together experts in the public, private, and academic sectors to discuss sustainability would have been considered odd—if not downright preposterous. Luckily, in 2011 we think of this as progress.

Don’t mess with Texas

Always enthusiastic about participating in a dialogue around global sustainability, I headed down south last week to attend the very first SXSW Eco conference. After only a few sessions, it became abundantly clear that a general call to action had somehow emerged: collaborate, innovate, accelerate. In that order.

Mark Tercek, CEO and President of the Nature Conservancy—the largest environmental organization in the U.S.—spoke to the importance of these key points, but focused primarily on the value of crossing boundaries.

“We need to broaden our reach,” he professed in a mid-afternoon keynote speech. “We need to talk about nature differently.”

Highlighting the value of bringing big businesses to the table, Tercek continued, “Can’t we think of nature as capital, as natural infrastructure? Big business depends on nature, so in today’s world, nature drives job growth and the economy. Talking about nature in this way…could be a key to unlock a much better future for our movement.”

Making the sustainability movement more sustainable

This idea of strategically reaching across sectors to build a more sustainable sustainable movement was echoed by many speakers throughout the conference. It reminded me of something Nobel Laureate Betty Williams once said, “There’s no use talking about the problem unless you talk about the solution.”

San Francisco Department of Environment Director Melanie Nutter could have harped on budgetary limitations or stifling bureaucracy, but instead she showed how leaders in her community were inspiring fellow citizens to discover their own creative solutions using available resources.

It’s through this creativity and dedication that San Francisco is now composting, reusing or recycling 77 percent of its waste—a national record—and leading the way in sustainable urban infrastructure.

Nick Allen, a partner at Spring Ventures, described how cleantech entrepreneurs are stepping up to the plate by focusing on collaborative consumption and “the sharing economy.”

“Cleantech is becoming more and more about the consumer,” said Allen. “Before it was about giant solar fields on a very commercial scale, and now it’s becoming something that we’re interacting with on a daily basis.”

ecomagination and the cleantech conversation

And speaking of daily cleantech interaction, you may have noticed some recent changes at, including the addition of original daily content and a new editorial team.

As Managing Editor, I believe it’s crucial that we not only participate in a digital conversation, but reach out and get involved in the offline community as well.

In the coming months you can expect to see the ecomagination team at events across the U.S. You can expect more media, more social outreach and more engagement.

It’s our hope that you’ll join us on this journey and continue to participate as we work hard to create and curate real conversations around these pivotal issues. Because there’s nothing “weird” about helping to create a cleaner, more sustainable planet.

Michael Parrish DuDell