Imagine a conference experience that is about more than business card collections, fancy dinners and academic posturing. Imagine a conference experience that extends beyond the closing ceremonies to truly impact your activism.
That is exactly what we had in mind when we dreamed up the Interstate Sustainability Leaders Summit. ISLS would be a modern conference that develops relationships and provides tangible takeaways for grounded dreamers.
These dreams became reality on a recent weekend in January. Funded by the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s Mini-Grant program, ISLS 2014 was hosted at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where 11 incredible young leaders, ranging from college freshmen to recent graduates, braved the polar vortex to share the experience.
ISLS believes in building relationships before starting work. On the first evening, participants shared their personal sustainability stories and relaxed over a meal of Chicago-style pizza. The hard work began the following day. In the morning, each presented an emerging sustainability idea to the group and received detailed feedback about how to improve the idea. After lunch, attendees had just three hours to write, practice and deliver a two-minute pitch of their idea. The Rural Renewable Renaissance, Seeds for Stamps and Contextualizing Consumption are just some of the great ideas our attendees shared. The pitches were taped and the videos posted in a 25-minute compilation on YouTube.
When asked what they liked about the conference, attendees were resoundingly positive. “It was amazing being around all these great people who are so talented and passionate,” one attendee responded anonymously to the question.
How will we use what we’ve learned? Each attendee will share his or her video with three decision-makers, people who can help implement the idea. Decision-makers include everyone from deans of colleges to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board. As for ISLS, we are looking for a new host organization to carry the conference forward and continue its great work.
Eric Sannerud is an IonE Boreas Leadership Program alumnus; co-founder of ISLS, with Allison Turner of Purdue University; and Founder of Sandbox Cooperative.