September 14, 2010

Ted Ning’s Top 10(ish) Mindful Conferences this Fall.

In my time at LOHAS [Ted is the Mr. LOHAS Forum] I have been to a lot of green events.

A few years ago there were only a handful of events to choose from—it was a close community, and a small one. However, now it seems that green and sustainably-oriented events are popping up everywhere. But how does one know which are solid and which are just flashes in the pan?

Since I’m putting together my travel schedule, I figured I’d share my faves—where I’m putting my own energy and travel budget.

Events I have either been to or have heard about that make my list and are organized by month:


The International Ecotourism Conference (Sept 8-10 Portland, OR)
The event for the ecotourism industry that brings a global attendee base.  Even though the ecotourism industry is a small section of the overall tourism industry, it is an excellent place to learn what is happening in the space and who’s who. I have not been to this event and have always wanted to and this year is my chance. I look forward to it. Yours truly will be speaking on the future of sustainability trends and the ROI of green travel. Should be fun!

Opportunity Green (Sept 22-24th Los Angeles Center Studios, CA) – This is their 3rd event and is very green business and design oriented. The speakers are primarily big business with some cutting edge entrepreneurs in the mix. Design conversations range from buildings to automobiles to fashion and the blend of people here is good. The event is really the only national oriented event I know of in LA that is green oriented and it has the LA look and feel. I feel you need to come to this event with a bit of a strategic game plan and set up some meetings to make the most of this event. You can also hear some interesting speakers and chat them up at the cocktail receptions and meals which are quite nice.

West Coast Green (Sept 30-Oct 2nd, San Francisco, CA)
The green building conference for the west coast featuring speakers such as Bill McDonough and an exhibit area of 300. I have not been to the event but I hear great things and if you are in the green building and design market you should go to this or Greenbuild (see below).


Green Spa Network (Oct 3-7, Avon CO)
The Green Spa Network has come from those in the spa industry that are seeking to reclaim the world of wellness from the clutches of pampering and luxury. GSN is a membership organization and looking to get those in the spa world to recognize sustainable product creation and spa properties. This will be their second year convening and are still in infancy but are moving fast and furious to make headway into the spa world. Those in the spa world who truly want to engage green practices should definitely attend this event.

SoCap (Oct 4-6th, San Francisco, CA)
Honestly, I have not been to SoCap yet and am looking forward to my inauguration to the event this year. I have only heard good things about this event. It appears to have a Silicon Valley type vibe from those that attend from its free form programming and type of people who are there. A great event for start ups and investors looking to match values in socially responsible businesses.

Expo East (Oct 13-16th Boston, MA)
These are great to get a pulse of the natural products industry. Expo East in the fall is on the east coast (hence the name) and is much smaller than the mega sized Expo West held in the spring (and in Anaheim)  I like Expo East because it is smaller and you can walk the floor without the onslaught of people that Expo West has. You can have conversations in depth at Expo East that are a bit more challenging at West. Typically the executive teams are at the shows the first few days so if you want to meet top brass you need to schedule meetings or come by booths at the beginning of the shows.  There is also no need to buy meals as only a quick stroll through the exhibit spaces can fill a stomach. Be careful about trying everything you see as sometimes food mixing may not agree with you. I found that out the hard way. Urp!

Bioneers (Oct 14-18 San Rafael, CA)
Bioneers is the gathering of what seems like all the activists, free spirits and dark greenies of California who want to learn about ecology, social justice and indigenous wisdom. It is a public/consumer event so expect to encounter some interesting characters. The general speakers are quite remarkable as they come from all over the globe and the audience can get pretty fired up on issues. They do talk about some of the more difficult issues society faces but I really like this event because the speakers challenge us to question things and help understand some of the issues people don’t see in conventional media. If you can’t get to the main event there are a few locations that have smaller gatherings and live video feeds into the larger event but they do not capture the energy and the other activities that happen there. As you walk through the crowded parking lot try counting how many hybrids you see or the bumper sticker slogans that have some activist slogan. I don’t know which is the larger of the two.

Green Biz Innovation Forum (Oct 19-20th San Francisco, CA)
I have not been to this event but anything that Joel Makeower and his Greener World Media team does I back. They always seem to have the ability to get top speakers and relevant content that makes the event special. I have heard great things from those that have attended and really like the format.  Joel always seems to be on the cutting edge of what’s what in the green business world.

Social Venture Network (Oct 21-24th, Long Branch, NJ)
SVN is a membership organization and has an open door conference in the fall and a members only event in the spring. The members are successful social entrepreneurs such as Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, Jeffrey Hollander of Seventh Generation and Priya Haji of World of Good. I really like this event as it brings a lot of good and experienced minds together. The mantra of this event is bonding and there are men’s and women’s circle meetings to promote this. Expect a lot of hugs and soul sharing which is a good thing to do for us all. Because of the intimacy some of the members feel among peers and get heated in conversations they feel important to them that I see more often here than other events. It is refreshing  especially after seeing many other events that stick to the talking heads format.  The event provides plenty of times to have conversations with members and provide opportunities for mentorship for start ups. Some of these conversations have resulted in future board members and even investment for startups.

Greenfestivals (Oct 23-24th DC / Nov 6-7 San Francisco, CA)
The Green America Green Festivals as some of the most well attended green consumer events I have attended. Each has a very local focus for the vendors but make sure you go to the speaker sessions because they have outstanding speakers from all over to come and grace the audience with their perspectives. Big hitters such as Deepak Chopra, Dr. Weil, Paul Stamets and a few other TED talk types present and you cant beat the ticket price for a front row seat. I have not been to the DC Greenfest and hear that each of the events reflect the vibe and culture of each city. The SF Greenfest rocks and is packed with all kinds of great booths and events. If you go get ready to be immersed in the dark green side of San Fran – free hugs, poetry, dreadlock and all. Green America is not doing their Green Business Conference this year that typically is right before their San Francisco Greenfest. Instead they have developed a green business pavilion within the San Fran Greenfest that will have business oriented talks. If you have not been to a Greenfestival I highly recommend them as they embody a variety of aspects that LOHAS does – organics, alternative therapies, personal development and social justice elements.

Net Impact (Oct 28-30th, Ann Arbor, MI)
Another event I have heard great things about but have never attended. It is primarily focused on CSR and brings together students and large corporations to openly discuss issues. It is also a great recruiting ground for companies seeking new green talent from recent graduates. The event brings together over 2500 people and has workshops and discussion groups to get down and dirty on complex issues. Their keynote speakers are solid with Majora Carter, Jeffery Hollander and Bill McDonough.

SRI In the Rockies (Nov 18-21 San Antonio, TX)
Anyone who is a financial planner or interested in socially responsible investment nitty gritty must put this event on their calendar. This is a blend of financial jargon and social justice and clean tech orientation. About 800 people attend the event from all over the world and is typically in a mountain setting. Being in San Antonio this year is a stretch.  it is a packed schedule for the most part but they do make time for long networking hikes and excursions . I have seen speakers ranging from Jane Goodall and David Bornstein to Calvert and Domini fund managers at the event. It is a great place to understand how to unravel the complexities of financial issues and know what mutual funds are actually doing as they relate to socially responsible investing. They throw a great evening party and many are not afraid to show off their dance moves.

Greenbuild (Nov 17-19th Chicago, IL)
The mother of green building products and originated from the USGBC this is the event for anyone interested or involved in the green building sector. The exhibit area is about 1000 booths and attracts about 25-30,000 attendees from all over the world. The green building industry has really picked up and does not look likely to slow down. I like this event a lot because of the creative energy efficiency exhibits and speakers.

Investors’ Circle (Nov 10-12th Washington, DC)
A membership organization of over 150 angel investors who are looking for solid socially responsible companies to invest in as a group. They have funneled over $134M into 200 companies addressing social and environmental issues. A great place for LOHAS oriented start ups to present who are seeking seed capital. There is an application process with an extensive screening but nothing too overloading.  The event focuses on vetting good seed capital candidates for an investor audience and mixes in some good quality speakers such as Acumen and Ashoka. If you are an investor or seeking funding from a good values base source check out Investor’s Circle.

ISPA Conference & Expo (Nov 15-18, Washington, DC)
The spa association where everyone in the spa world congregates – green and conventional. If you attend you can see there is a strong emphasis from many about sustainability than ever before but there are still those brands that have their share of green washing along those who just don’t care. Regardless, anyone who is interested in the spa world and creating spa products should attend to understand the trends in the industry. LOHAS has a strong foothold in the wellness and beauty industry and it is a good place to learn macro trends and spa operation techniques. This is probably the most well groomed attendee base I have seen which I have no trouble surrounding myself with.


LOHAS Regional Events (April TBD, NYC, LA, Atlanta, Minneapolis)
Taking the LOHAS conference on a bit of a roadshow and working to get some momentum build in these areas. Its tough to go to all these events so we have decided to try to make it easier by providing single day events. Stay tuned for more details!

BALLE (June 15-17th Bellingham, WA)
Business Alliance for Local Living Economies celebrates local businesses and local orientation. There are a lot of local loyalists at the event and mostly smaller and mid size companies, non profits and academia. But the conversations are lively and some really interesting networking. A lot of cross over with speakers from the Greenfests and SVN groups. I like the workshops and the networking here. The production of the event is low key as the focus is on the content and type of people who attend which is really nice.

LOHAS (June 22-24th Boulder, CO)
Of course I have to put this one on the calendar as I think EVERYONE should consider this one. Well…maybe not everyone. We have about 5-600 people attend who are business executives, thought leaders, academia and entrepreneurs. As much as many equate LOHAS with the converted dark greens of the world the event is set up to not be an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ atmosphere. Rather we welcome all who are interested in understanding LOHAS and how it applies the them personally and professionally. We set up plenty of networking opportunities and workshops to provide tangible takeaways. To see some of the videos from previous LOHAS sessions visit our LOHAS YouTube page. We work hard to get a solid program together with a great attendee base. If you have any recommendations or tweaks I’d love to hear from you.

Visit the LOHAS blog for Spring and Summer conferences as well as other ideas for living the good, green life.

These are only a few of the many that are out there and more to come. I truly feel that any conference you attend is what you make of it and how you prepare ahead of time setting up meetings, scheduling and follow up. With that said, good luck with your planning and hope to see you at one of these events. If you have other events you feel should be added I would love to hear about them. Please share!

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