Sustainable Operations Summit—A Lesson in Storytelling

In the middle of my sprint to the completion of my master’s thesis I was given the opportunity to attend the 2012 Sustainable Operations Summit in New York City.  This swanky conference featured speakers from all across the sustainability and business spectrum, including a headline address by the one and only Bill Clinton!!!  Needless to say, I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity.

A theme for our leadership class (and the thesis process) this semester has been the story: the importance of telling the story of who you are and how you got to where you are today, as well as the importance of being able to write the story of the complex issue that is your master’s thesis.  And, after attending this conference, I have to admit that Director Goodstein has been right all semester, and story is a very important piece of sustainability, especially in the context of business.

Pretty much every speaker that I saw spoke about the need for a good sustainability story to entice the C-Suite executives, the public, consumers, media etc.  Model and co-founder of Source4Style, Summer Rayne Oakes , made the point that if you can’t communicate why you do what you do to your best friends and family how are you going to be able to explain it to others and create change? So, while I was a bit resistant to all this storytelling throughout semester, I have to say that Director Goodstein was right, and telling the right story is very important once we leave the walls of CEP.

The two days I spent at the conference definitely left my head spinning with information overload about all things sustainability. Some of my favorite sessions were about some of the different things that New York City has been doing on the sustainability front.  From the Highline to the new Lowline they are working to bring green spaces to unlikely places. The PlaNYC panel talked about all of the new transit options that they are working on, emphasizing the effort that they have put into making biking much more alluring and creating spaces that New Yorkers, not just tourists, want to sit outside and enjoy.

Amory Lovins was incredible informative and inspiring, as expected.  His presentation outlined his new book “Reinventing Fire,” which is all about creating a clean energy economy and the transition off of fossil fuels through policy, efficiency and innovation now, not in 50 years.  This was not the first time that I have gotten to see him speak on this topic, and it was every bit as enjoyable and educational this time as the time before.  His genius is pretty inspiring.

With so many great presenters it’s hard to summarize the experience into just one short post, so look for more to come.  But, one of the biggest take away messages for me really was the importance of the sustainability story to actually get the job done, entice stakeholders, and changing the C-Suite conversation.

-Melissa Provinsal, M.S. ’12

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