Are Green Conferences Getting Greener?

As the climate talks in Paris come to a close it’s worth thinking about the environmental costs of bring 22,000 people from around the world together to discuss climate change. The UN is actually quite good at answering this question — the French government has pledged to make COP21 a carbon neutral event. But what about other conferences, particularly those in the less eco-friendly United States?

Often it’s only after the flights have landed, the Ubers called and well-dressed people from all over the globe arrive that the topic of climate change is broached at most conferences. It is not without irony that the highest income people in America are both the demographic most likely to identify as environmentalists and the population with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. But at the recent SOCAP impact investing conference in San Francisco, this issue was tackled head-on.

“We’re trying to get better at practicing what we preach. It goes beyond just having compost and recycling at our conferences, we’re trying to change the conversation of what an impact investing conference and a socially-minded co-working space can look like,” said Eryc Branham, CEO of MissionHUB.

Social Capital Markets, or SOCAP, is the premiere conference series dedicated to increasing the flow of capital towards social good. At SOCAP 2015, over 2,500 entrepreneurs and impact investors gathered together around the intersection of money and meaning. This year’s’ gathering had a greener tint to it than most with the announcement of SOCAP 365 and the new so-called “Prius of co-working spaces.”

Meant to be a platform for social entrepreneurs to access SOCAP content year-round, SOCAPTV will broadcast TED-like talks from the conference, and SOCAP 365 will host events year round in cities across the US. This should at least make the programming, if not entirely the networking of the exclusive SOCAP conference (tickets cost ~$1,400) more accessible to those unable to attend the flagship event in San Francisco.

The new “Prius of co-working” is a building located in San Francisco’s Mission district that will aim to be zero waste and carbon neutral. The newly expanded co-working space will include an outdoor space, showers, bike parking and proximity to 16th BART. Cognizant of the rising protests over gentrification in the Mission neighborhood, the co-working space includes space for public programming. Branham assured me that using the new space to engage the local community was a top priority for the new development.

Biking away from SOCAP 2015, I saw lots of smiles and a few cheers for my choice of transportation. The older crowd at SOCAP might not be ready to trade in their army of Ubers for bikes and their conference attendance for a youtube screen but the overall vibe of the conference was one of environmental progress. Maybe America isn’t as far behind Europe as environmentalists might have us think.

This article was posted on Huffington Post 12/10/15, updated 12/10/16